Wabanaki Fair visits area schools

Wabanaki Fair visits area schools

Above: Leslie Thibeault’s life skills students enjoyed the Wabanaki Fair at GSB. Eddie Worster shows off a piece of birch bark for etching and a traditional toy made from a corn cob and feather.

Supporting local schools with outdoor education

Coastal Rivers’ Wabanaki program has been a fixture for schools all over Maine for many years. Every October, busloads of schoolkids spend one or more days at Salt Bay Farm learning about Wabanaki culture from a Wabanaki educator – listening to traditional stories, playing Wabanaki games, tasting wild edibles, etching birch bark, and helping to build a wigwam.

Teachers place a high value on this unique program that offers an immersive experience like no other.

But how to make it available to schools during a pandemic?

The answer, for Coastal Rivers’ Education Director Sarah Gladu and Education Assistant Angela DesVeaux, was to create a mobile Wabanaki Fair that can be set up on school grounds.

GSB students trying out the Wabanaki feather dance

A group of students tries out the feather dance game.

The fair offers a “menu” of activities that schools can choose from: things like an interpretive nature walk with a map and signs, Wabanaki games, a story board walk made from the book “The Canoe Maker: David Moses Bridges Passamaquoddy Birch Bark Artisan” by Donald Soctomah and Jean Flahive, a chance to see Coastal Rivers’ birch bark canoe, and etching birch bark.

Sarah and Angela tailor the activities and resources to each school’s requests, for example by adapting the interpretive signs to reflect wild edibles that can be found on school grounds. Teachers also have access to a box of additional classroom activities and resources, including traditional stories written by Wabanaki authors.

According to Sarah, providing resources on school grounds makes the program accessible for any student or teacher that wishes to participate. The activities themselves, such as the self-guided walks and “round-robin station” format of other activities, lend themselves to outdoor learning and may help inspire teachers who are new to teaching outside.

students on a field trip to Whaleback Shell Midden

GSB students take a tour of Whaleback Shell Midden as part of the Wabanaki Fair.

Great Salt Bay Community School (GSB) participated in the Wabanaki Fair the week of November 2-6, and 179 kids were able to take part. They enjoyed an interpretive walk around the Whaleback Shell Midden site, a self-guided walk about wild plants and their uses, and a station featuring two traditional games.

After taking the story-board walk with “The Canoe Maker” book, in which David Moses Bridges and his son Tobias Francis build a canoe together, students and teachers then got to see and touch the real-life birch bark canoe, built with Tobias’ help by Coastal Rivers and Lincoln Academy a few years ago. They were given birch bark pieces and taught how to etch them in the traditional way.

Thanks to member giving and support from the Burns Family Foundation, Coastal Rivers is able to offer this program to local schools at no cost to the schools.

This week, the Wabanaki Fair activities were set up at Bristol Consolidated School, and a second set of Wabanaki Fair resources was sent by request to a school in the Portland area.

“This is a wonderful way for us to support local schools during the pandemic,” Sarah said, “and make it easy for teachers to offer fun and engaging outdoor education while meeting state standards at the same time.”