By Heather Heslup, Implementation Coordinator

Honoring the rich history of their culture and community, the Arts Leadership Team (ALT) at Hoopa Valley Elementary School (HVES) recently led students and teachers on a journey to produce their first annual Acorn Festival. What began as a simple sharing of the story of the acorn’s significance to the local Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes of northern California resulted in a wonderful display of community pride and creative exploration.

“At last summer’s Turnaround Arts Summer Leadership Retreat,” shared HVES Visual Arts Specialist Jill Henning, “our ALT brainstormed arts integration project ideas based on acorn gathering practices. We also knew we would want to display the results at a school art exhibit. Gradually, the idea developed into hosting an annual Acorn Festival in order to celebrate the local gathering traditions with the community. We recognized early on that the key for the event’s success and its longevity would be to attract a variety of community members of all ages. Therefore, we started planning to not only offer visual arts, but also include the performing arts and serve dinner.”

With the leadership of Principal Paula Wyant, the wonderfully collaborative ALT at HVES worked tirelessly to bring all the essential elements of the festival together. Director of Indian Education Margo Robbins was charged with securing notable festival presenters and worked with Student Activities and Resource Clerk Billie Sanderson and Kindergarten Teacher Deanna Marshall to bring HVES teachers together to prepare a traditional feast for over 200 family and community members. Mimi Dojka, Turnaround Arts: California Regional Coach for HVES, served as a constant resource for arts integration and collaborative planning practices, and, along with Billie Sanderson, expertly supported communications and publicity for the event.

Jill Henning, the fantastic Visual Arts Specialist at HVES, worked closely with classroom teachers from all grades on arts integrated lessons focused on understanding the science and biology of oak trees (including life cycles and species), researching cultural traditions, and using visual arts, performing arts, and creative writing to bring these stories to life. Ms. Stephens’ first grade students explored Pointillism after learning about the painting techniques of Seurat as well as created stick puppet performances based on the acorn stories. Mr. Perez’s and Mrs. Carson-Hansen’s second grade classes created Acorn Books that aligned with the Indian Education Curriculum for their grade level. “Students wrote about their acorn gathering field trip, put together pages on the trees used for gathering acorns, and included step-by-step directions on processing the acorns,” shared Mrs. Carson-Hansen. Ms. Montalvo’s third grade students learned how to draw acorns and later used appropriate vocabulary to write a short poem. Jackie Martin, the school’s Hupa language teacher along with Tina West, who teaches third grade, taught students acorn gathering songs in the Hupa language, which they later performed. Ms. Silvia’s eighth grade students also wrote acorn-inspired poems, which were displayed along with oil pastel drawings.

At the culminating event, an array of beautiful student artwork and poetry decorated the walls of the festival center for all to enjoy. Additionally, there were various art-making stations for festival-goers to let their own creative light shine such as the dot art activity led by Deanna Marshall. Maggie Peters, 7th grade teacher and cultural guru, rounded out the group by providing interactive lessons to students and festival attendees on cultural traditions such as acorn gathering and cracking, and she produced a living exhibition featuring young girls from the Hoopa Valley community adorned in traditional ceremonial dress.

All in all, the first annual HVES Acorn Festival was a truly enriching and engaging creative and cultural event enjoyed by all! For more photos of the event, visit the HVES Facebook page!