10 Years at IslandWood: Riel LaPlant

In August, TAF’s Fellows will return to the Martinez Fellowship’s annual three-day summer retreat where teachers of color receive professional development, community support, and participate in invigorating sessions. For the last 10 years, the retreat has been held at IslandWood, an environmental education center on Brainbridge Island, WA, and has become a tradition that our Fellows to look forward to.

To celebrate, we’re highlighting one Fellow from each of Martinez Fellowship’s ten cohorts.

Meet Riel LaPlant of Cohort 9, a Teacher at Harrison Preparatory School of Cover Park School District.

TAF: What was one win or winning moment this past school year?

Riel: I think one win was being awarded a Dreamstarter grant from Running Strong for American Indian youth. My grant allowed me to host a series of storytelling & art workshops whereby local Native students could build community and teach non-Native teachers how school does and doesn’t meet their needs.


TAF: Why did you want to become a teacher, and why are you still a teacher?

Riel:  As a teacher, one quote I really like is “the pursuit of a dream can mend a broken soul” by Native American Olympic athlete Billy Mills. I like this quote because I grew up with a lot of trauma within my community and home, which impacted my self worth and ambitions. However, there were many teachers who guided and loved me, which allowed me to pursue my dreams and heal on my own terms. I would like to do the same for my students.

 

TAF: What do you with the world knew about being a teacher of color?

Riel: Garth Nix once wrote “does the walker choose the path or the path the walker?” Something I would like people to know about being a teacher of color is that it isn’t always a choice.

I come from a community who understands that our most precious treasure are our people, especially the youth. I can see the barriers western society sets in front of our students and I cannot sit by and watch the next generation stumble. I am a teacher, because that’s what my community needs today and to uplift one’s people is both the necessary and honorable thing to do. This is my path, because it clears the way for others.


What is missing from public education today?

Riel: Damn, there are some days students don’t physically interact or touch a single person in the school, even though they’re there the entire day. I know there is a lot of history and legality behind why public education limits or absolutely restricts physical contact amongst students, which is sad.

For many cultures physical contact is necessary for emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth, whether that be playing a game, cooking a meal, writing, or interacting with nature. It has come to the point that students often feel the people around them are just as abstract as their algebra lessons.

“I can see the barriers western society sets in front of our students and I cannot sit by and watch the next generation stumble.”

TAF’s Martinez Fellowship Program recruits and retains teachers of color in Washington State. In the last year its 151 Fellows impact over 14,000 students by providing representation and creating equitable academic environments.

By 2038, TAF plans to add over 2,400 teachers of color to the fellowship. Learn more about the Martinez Fellowship.

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