Raising $75k to Scale/Upstart a One-of-A-Kind Social-Emotional Student Project w/Native American Elements

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Unreserved is a one-of-a-kind social-emotional project and self and social awareness tool. In our program, one feature project connects many diverse spaces, students, and leaders. We turn any classroom into a living library and makes students the subject.

Unreserve will  be running in up to 20 Montana High Schools and four schools in Houston, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington D.C. in 2021-2022.. Our project includes a unit with Native American elements that are seen as lessons that  will benefit any student, anywhere. We have attracted experts in the field of education and design. Our projects focuses on  positive social interactions and creativity (creative agency). 

The Unreserved  project leans into our photo-savvy culture. An originally designed format asks each student to bring four images that are traced and placed into designated places in the format. Each image represents one of four themes: Heritage, Happiness, Hurdles, and Hope. Their is also white space in the format for narrating, color, and further individual expression. When students think about which images (hand-drawn or photocopied photos) to bring, it nurtures and challenges their critical thinking and self-awareness skills. When students put their entire piece together, it nurtures their creative thinking skills. Everyone does the same project,  but no two pieces are alike. Its shows that each student is dimensional. In conclusion, students sit in small talk circles to share the stories behind their images one theme at time together. 

Our project takes a teacher around 5-7 days to complete. We run this with one grade level and a Core department in each school. We will be posting finished work this year to our website (that will become an archive)  at urart.org. We ask teachers to give students 1-2 days later in the year to access our website to see other students' stories/products. We also have diverse feature adults doing the project where we will be posting  videos of them sharing their pieces to our website, also. This includes two Nike shoe designers, an MTV award-winning rapper, a children's book author and more. 

The unit that comes with our project includes writings by Nicholas Rink of the Blackfeet Nation about talk circles and how he facilitates them in his Alternative High School (Buffalo Hide Academy) and by Shane Doyle of the Crow Nation (Phd in Education and Masters in Native Studies) about reciprocity (the importance of our exchanges and interactions). We have dabbed this information and work in places outside of Montana with success. Students in urban Brooklyn were taken with the information and it spurred conversation about the comparison  of their cultures. 

This project began with one event on a Wednesday, in April of 2019. We used this project to bring together students from a mostly non-Native community in rural Montana with students from two reservations. It was a wild success; 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year winner, Kelly Elder, attended and stated that it was his  best day in education in ten years. With the pandemic last year, we were slowed but still test-ran our project in five schools, successfully. We have held now two destination events, successfully. However, our typical structure runs this in one school at a time, as stated with a grade level in a Core department (typically English or history). 

This is our first full-scale year! The  project was started by Dani Phillips, the Director, after teaching on two reservations in the state, coming from a rural, non-Native community herself, and after being the Director of Operations for a Division 1 women's basketball program that went from losing half of their games two years in a row to winning back-to-back Big Sky Conference Championships the following two years. The focus  on building an awesome team and using the project to give students the chance to speak of their stories and their hopes and to care about each other's hopes drives the work. And, the work works. Our feedback couldn't be better from educators and students. Bryce Graham of Lewisotwn, Montana shared: "The project should be in every  school. I didn't know how  little I knew my peers." We have more student feedback and testimonials in our deck we can  email you, happily. 

Our project has attracted the collaboration from Phil Jackson's Family Foundation, Designers with Nike's Native American design unit, state colleges in Montana, a student services coordinator at Smithsonian's American Indian Museum, and a leading professor from Stanford's Masters of  Education Department. We are a 501(c)3 non-profit. 

It's the auspicious time for this project. It's not too long that it feels overwhelming too a teacher, but it's a refreshing and deeply impactful week and a half in the year that can boost students' self-respect, empowerment, and empathy for their peers. We are looking for a partner with non-profit experience who sees the "social enterprise" and integrity in our work and can see this entering many schools, especially in underserved or marginalized areas, to deeply impact many young lives.  

Please see our website urart.org.  

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