Sports turned into a cultural immersion recently for the Lincoln Charter School girls volleyball team. The trip originated after coaches from Cherokee High School reached out to Lincoln Charter School regarding some talk and actions in the stands that were disrespectful from LCS students, which girls volleyball coach and second grade teacher Lauren Hughes said she found appalling. 

“They tend to get this type of treatment from a lot of schools,” Hughes said. “The Cherokee people are very proud of their heritage and are eager to share it so others better understand who they are and treat them with the respect that everyone deserves. As a coach at LCS, I was pretty upset that some of our students would think that it was okay to judge somebody by their heritage or their culture. We wanted to do our part to educate our girls and make sure they weren’t a part of that and see if they could facilitate it with their peers.”

The students didn’t know the real reason for their trip to western North Carolina. They thought it was a team bonding experience. When it was explained to them as they got closer, they all got excited to learn about the culture of the Cherokee people and to bring something back to Lincoln Charter. 

“Cherokee couldn’t have been a greater host,” Hughes said. “They welcomed us into the school and the first thing that we did was to sit in on their Cherokee language class. As soon as we walked in, the Cherokee students stood up and as a sign of respect, gave up all their seats to our girls. Our girls learned some easy greetings, a song for the days of the week and months of the year and played a Quizlet game with the Cherokee students.”

All Cherokee High School students have to pass a Cherokee language class to graduate, Hughes said. The LCS students also learned about the seven Cherokee clans, which are the Bird Clan, the Blue Clan, the Deer Clan, the Long Hair Clan, the Paint Clan, the Wild Potato Clan and the Wolf Clan. The masks that symbolize these clans were found all throughout the school and campus.

The girls also took part in an arts and craft class learning how to do basket weaving and beading. They also got a campus tour and ate lunch in the cafeteria.

“The campus is absolutely breathtaking,” Hughes said. “They talked about how their heritage is embedded in the architecture, the meaning of the buildings and how it brings everything back to their heritage.”

The girls also played some volleyball. They scrimmaged with both the Cherokee and Swain high schools. The all had a sleep-in in the gym with the Cherokee High School girls.

The next day they toured the Oconaluftee Indian Village where they learned about the weavings and beading that the Cherokee women did to create belts and other garments. 

“We learned about how they made their pottery and watched a woman working on a marriage vase,” Hughes said. “There were two men who were making different tools and utensils out of different materials. We learned more about basket weaving and the different types of weaving and materials that were used. We also saw a man making arrowheads and talked about their weapons. The man also did a demonstration of a blow-dart. They showed us different traps that were set to catch different animals and we were able to walk in three different houses that were built throughout their history.”

It was a full two days for the girls and they came back brimming with ideas on how to share what they learned with their peers.

“We sat down with admin last week,” Hughes said. “Our next step is to have the girls create some presentations and they’re going to take it to our social studies staff and try to get some teacher buy-in. We want to start small and let it build and for the girls to have ownership of it.”

The potential possibilities are a pen pal relationship with Cherokee, service learning projects where students go back and forth from the charter school to Cherokee from year to year and to have the girls share their experience with social studies classes.

“The Cherokee trip was so much fun,” Elizabeth Wessel, a Lincoln Charter School student who attended the trip said. “Learning about their culture was a once in a lifetime experience and really opened up my eyes to their way of life. The arts and crafts class was amazing, the basket weaves, jewelry, and finger weaving were so different than what we learn at Lincoln Charter in our art class. Spending time with the volleyball players showed me that while they have different lifestyles than we do and different beliefs, they still have the same things as us. They have phones, TVs and computers just like we do. They're really not that much different than us and I'm embarrassed that they know us for the rude things our student section said to them. This was a really cool trip and I learned a lot, it would be a lot of fun to do again.”

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