During my time in New Zealand, working with indigenous Māori people allowed me the opportunity to witness first hand the profoundly positive impact that placing culture and heritage first in education has on eliminating the racial predictability of student academic achievement.
I came back from my Fulbright experience a changed human. The trip inspired me to find my roots and ancestry through embracing the land, sea, and where I come from. Although my students couldn’t go to New Zealand this year, this exchange to Oak Park allowed my students to witness a new culture and ignite curiosities that will inspire them explore to US and the world in the future.
Through a serendipitous encounter in Rotorua, New Zealand, I had the great privilege to collaborate with Raewyn Tipene, the amazing CEO of the Te Kāpehu Whetū school in Whangarei, New Zealand, and together we worked on a cultural exchange between our two schools. It was meant to be, as the world renowned Field Museum has one of three marae, or Māori meeting houses, outside of New Zealand. The marae comes from the iwi (tribe) in Tokomaru Bay, and some of the students from the New Zealand school have ancestors from there.
In order to welcome them appropriately, we completed a pōwhiri, or a traditional welcome ceremony. And I can’t explain how much it touched me to bring 80 students and have them feel how I felt a year ago this week when I went through my own first pōwhiri. Jessica Stovall