Montana's Connie Michael is the 2020 National Signature Project Award Winner!

A’ashe Kussee’ Alatshiia, River to Garden

July 14, 2020 |

The National Rural Education Association and the Rural Schools Collaborative are proud to announce that Connie Michael of Crow Agency Elementary on the Crow Reservation in Montana has received the 2020 National Signature Project Award for her place-based project, "A’ashe Kussee’ Alatshiia, River to Garden".

Michael is the third National Signature Project Award recipient, following last year's selection, Devon Barker-Hicks of Idaho, and in 2018 Andrea Wood, from Moorcroft, Wyoming. Michael will receive an award of $2,500, which will be applied to her incredible place-based project!

Here's more from Connie on the project:

Students testing water in class with help from the Audobon

"I teach on the Crow Reservation. I have partnered with the Big Horn County conservation district and Guardians of the Living Water, a tribal group from the Little Big Horn College. In addition we worked with the Montana Audubon Center, these partnerships are used to increase student’s knowledge of traditional vegetation and tributary systems, as well as how to use our limited water resources. This grant will help to continue to partner with these organizations and provide place based field trips, as well as build a water conservation system.

My project "A’ashe Kussee’ Alatshiia, River to Garden," came from when asking what problems are prevalent in our community, students would list water, pollution, and lack of food.

The reservation has twelve sacred springs and two rivers, The Big Horn and the Little Big Horn. The springs have been contaminated by agricultural pollution. This grant would help my students to continue to partner with organizations in our community to study the contaminants in the water as well as the impact on the ecology and local environment. The data students gathered showed the importance of clean water but it also showed the importance of conservation.

Students with their garden bed at the beginning of the season

We have two garden beds for vegetables, herbs, and native plants, and two hydroponic gardens. The percentage of community members who suffer from obesity and diabetes is very high and the lack of good food choices makes it difficult to rectify. We will implement a water recycling system with water storage barrels and a tiered raised garden system. The gardens will use water in a more efficient manner, with our ultimate goal being to build productive gardens and creating a food program for our school community

Finally, this grant will continue to empower the students of our community to advocate for clean water and healthy eating. The future is something that should excite students, attract their interest and get them thinking of the influence they have on the world."

Gary Funk, RSC Director, commented, "What impressed the selection committee so much about Connie's project is that it was based on student input regarding community problems that needed to be addressed. This should always be a core tenet of place-based learning." Funk added, " I really want to thank the National Rural Education Association for their support, and especially Dr. Allen Pratt, NREA executive director."

About Connie:

Connie Michael has been a teacher for twenty-nine years. Her career began in Central Washington, working with migrant children who not only struggled with finding consistency in instruction but also with language challenges and living in poverty. Mrs. Michael found her heart for these students and learned Spanish to be able to teach more effectively and began her career as a primary bilingual teacher. Students with language deficits have difficulty receiving support services and Mrs. Michael went back to school to get a degree in Special Education and a National Board Certification in Early Childhood Education to better meet their needs. When Connie moved to Montana, she hoped to find the opportunity to work with similar students and found her place at Crow Agency Public School, teaching 5th grade.

Mrs. Michael believes that developing relationships with her students and families is extremely important. Knowing her students have diverse learning styles, Mrs. Michael takes time to teach her students respect and responsibility by engaging them in unique projects through Placed Based Learning. Since beginning at C.A.P.S., six years ago, she has received numerous grants and began relationships with Montana State University, MSU Billings Career Center, NASA, Little Big Horn College, and the Montana Audubon Center. Each summer she runs free science camps to encourage students to discover a path to Engineering through their own community. Mrs. Michael has worked with her students to create a school business and is developing a garden project and hydroponic gardening to further student knowledge of culturally relevant plants. Mrs. Michael has worked to learn the importance of Tribal Knowledge and integrates it into STEM projects as well as her Placed Based/ Project centered learning.

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