Thursday, February 22, 2018


At the beginning of February, I had the opportunity to travel to the NCCEP/GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop in Las Vegas, Nevada with the GEAR UP department from LibbyHigh School, my MTCC service site. As a VISTA, I saw the words capacity building and thought “I’M IN!”

Sunny Las Vegas was a beautiful reprieve from cold and cloudy Libby but I took home a lot more than a suntan and the tiny condiments they left out at breakfast. I took home a fresh outlook on bringing a college and career mindset to Libby students. We attended three days of sessions. The first day focused on excelling our ideas and programs, the second day on demonstrating effective capacity building strategies, and the third day we learned how to mobilize these ideas and programs and maximize results.

Because my service year is concentrating on professionalizing and promoting the high school internship program among students and families in Libby, I attended seminars and workshops with titles like “Putting the CAREER in College and CareerReadiness,” “Breaking Through to Disengaged Students”, and “Culturally-Responsive Communications in Family Engagement.” The focus in each session was to present classroom tested and ready information. Because we VISTAs primarily do indirect service, it took some creative thinking to reframe how these tools could be applied to my service. For example, in the “Breaking Through to Disengaged Students” workshop, we moved around a lot to keep from getting sleepy in the classroom. Even without a classroom, I can incorporate active tasks into the presentations I give to students and community members about our internship program.

I have a special place in my heart for family engagement. In Libby, we too struggle with getting parents involved in academic and career related functions. In many cases, the staff create an additional mentor-type relationship for students who need extra support. I find myself taking students under my wing to walk them through financial planning for college or even just asking how their day is going - providing safe daily check-in spaces.

There are also many families in Libby who want to be involved but they don't know how, or are afraid to be. They are the family engagement targets! As we learned on day 2, students whose parents are involved at school are more likely to have good grades, attend college, etc. Because Libby is a tight community that values hard work, I think more highly involved parents is a reachable goal. I am working on instigating bi-weekly parent/GEAR UP meetings to build trust in our community and form a group of parents that will spread the college and career readiness word.

I took home several great ideas from the Capacity Building conference, but like most great ideas, they are harder to instigate in reality than in concept. Both the administrative and budget barriers that come with working in a high-risk school can be frustrating. One of our keynote speakers, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, used to be the principal at Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia. Her students were affected by extreme poverty and violence everyday. She made two main points all education communities can all hold onto. The first: If you don't do it, who will? This encourages the social pioneers in all of us to serve with purpose and to the best of our abilities. The second was even more personal. She told us that she used to get on the announcements everyday telling her students “If no one told you they love you today, remember I do and I always will.” The best way to lead is with love and if no one told you they love you today, I do. I am proud to be a part of such a hardworking education focused community!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Students from across the Flathead Reservation gathered at Salish Kootenai College for Flathead Tech4Good’s Winter Game Jam the weekend of February 9th. Games were played, tested, and dissected as we refined prototypes from our Fall Game Jam and made plans for our next collaborative project!

The game’s Water Warriors and Mussel Hustle were prototyped the first weekend in November. Since then, students behind the project spent time with our partners at Native Teaching Aids designing the game board, playing pieces and cards.
On Saturday morning, both polished games were play-tested for feedback and refinement. Students and volunteers, who had never seen the games, played in groups of four or five. Volunteers from Native Teaching Aids and the students who crafted the games took notes on the game’s mechanics and educational components for further refinement.

With feedback in hand, both games will be finalized in time for presentation at our Spring Game Jam in May.

Polson, Charlo, Ronan and St. Ignatius were represented by students from 1st to 10th grade. Because of the wide age range, we structured the weekend into blocks to allow more unique interests to be explored.

For example, Saturday afternoon we had students designing “Choose Your Own Adventure” style stories using a free application called Twine; at the same time, we had students exploring virtual reality with an art-based program called TiltBrush that allows users to paint in a fully immersive, 3D environment. Other students learned some tips and tricks for Photoshop while some kept playing and designing games!

“Do you have these every weekend?” one girl asked.
The first steps towards creating a virtual “scavenger hunt” on the reservation were taken Saturday night and Sunday morning. We wrapped up the weekend with a to-do list of goals to accomplish between now and the Spring Game Jam and a plan to see the new project to fruition in the coming months.

In the Summer, participating students have the unique opportunity to present their work in front of the Immersive Learning Research Network at their annual conference. Last year it was held in Portugal; this year it will take place in Missoula, Montana. We’re excited to continue working with the students involved and can’t wait for their chance to present on a global platform!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Today we're lucky to have guest piece from Isabel Langlois, a University of Montana student and Newman Civic Fellow with Campus Compact. Thank you, Isabel!

Newman Civic Conference Fellows in Boston
In November 2017, with the support of the UM Civic Engagement Office, I was able to attend the Newman Civic Fellowship Conference in Boston, MA at the Edward Kennedy Institute. 

I took on the identity of a
Democrat from Colorado to debate the
controversial Farm Bill.
A few days were packed with elevator introductions, Farm Bill riders, and Ted Talks; beyond this, the Newman Civic Fellowship Conference in Boston Massachusetts was the gathering of motivated college students sharing stories of the organizing challenges, successes and the potential of our generation. One moment in particular demonstrated the engine of change that Newman Civic Fellows hold is when the President of Campus Compact, Andrew Seligsohn, asked those who were the first generation in their family to graduate stand up in a closing meeting. A moment later close to three quarters of the mock Senate floor in the Edward Kennedy Institute stood up, the others stood clapping in concert. We looked around relishing in the energy of cultural change that hover in this room. Moments like this seemed to roll in throughout the weekend.

A part of the Conference included free access to Ted Talks where we were able to listen to the first women astronaut in space. She discussed her mediocre skills playing the flute while showing footage of a concert with Jethro Tull; he played live in Germany and she floated through Space. Another resonating conversation included a local prosecutor from Boston discussing his story becoming a prosecutor, a powerful actor in the controversial issue of mass incarceration. A fellow student spoke about his desire as a young adult to become a lawyer for the profits, a required internship for his degree with a public defender, and a powerful lesson. After his
Newman Civic Fellows at the Kennedy Center for the U.S. Senate
internship with a local public defender, he described watching many people that looked like him being locked up over and over again; however, that he began to see the power of helping them through the prosecutor instead of the public defender. He went on to be a prosecutor in Boston, looking to keep people out of jail rather than putting them in; which he spoke of as redeeming the position. Many of the fellows were of mixed ethnicity and race, and the discussion, again, spoke to the struggles that seemed quite apparent to this audience.

The mock Senate floor in the Kennedy Institute
where Fellows would give speeches based
on which Senator we became for a mock Senate trial.
The Conference overall provided space for networking among students and worshiping with leadership skills as well. We crafted different ideas in how we would like to stay communicated, and have followed through with numerous. One in particular is sharing online petitions concerning important regional and national issues, and contacting one another about regional issues that could be misunderstood across the country. For example, a student in Utah and I discuss via email the differences among the framing of the Public Lands Transfer movement in Montana versus Utah. Currently, we share local ads and propaganda that frame the issue for locals differently between State, so as to understand how issues of importance differ among communities of our own country.  Another example, is students in the Southeast in particular wrote petition in support of The Dreamers and circulated them through the Fellow network. The Conference provided space to demonstrate to Fellows the engine of change possible through the youth of our nation. I left feeling confident in what others Fellows around the nation are doing for all of us, and energetic in addressing challenges in my own community.