Partnership with Puyallup Tribe enriches curriculum helping students gain understanding and respect for Native American heritage
Geiger classroom lesson

Sitting spaced out on the floor, Kendra Paskey’s preschool and kindergarten students at Geiger Montessori discuss what they’ve learned so far about the history of Native Americans and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

“They’ve lived here for thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of years,” said kindergarten student Gabriel, referring to the Puyallup people.

Paskey shares a short video, “Land of the Puyallup People” narrated in both English and Lushootseed (xʷəlšucid, dxʷləšúcid), the native language of the Puyallup tribe. And after the video, she begins reading a new book to the class, “A River Lost.” She’ll read the book over a series of days, breaking excerpts into small writing lessons and laying the groundwork for future lessons and projects on salmon.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and the materials and lessons Paskey uses are from the State and District’s Since Time Immemorial (STI) curriculum and resources shared by the Puyallup tribe.

Paskey doesn’t want to teach lessons on Native American history only in November or have lessons separate from other things students are learning.

“Lessons need to build on one-another,” Paskey said. “And as a teacher I don’t have time to teach anything in isolation. For example, today’s story is an opportunity to talk about different kinds of fiction and a chance to practice their writing skills. And the story will introduce information on salmon, which will support future science lessons.”

The STI curriculum provides units and resources for every grade level. Additionally, STI stipulates that each school district partner with its nearest tribal neighbor, for TPS that is the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

“The Puyallup Tribe Historic Preservation Office and Language Department has been a wonderful source of information and partner regarding many aspects of their history, language, and culture,” said Indian Education Director David Syth, an enrolled member of the Crow Nation.

And while the history of Native Americans is complex, Paskey sees her young students learning and gaining from the curriculum.

“I see them engaged and interested,” Paskey said. “They are learning about the history of the land we live on and gaining respect for Native American cultures. It is especially beneficial when I am able to bring in Native American guest speakers, and it’s my dream to bring them on a field trip to the Salmon Festival in April.”

Native American History Month is federally recognized, and in Washington State the fourth Friday of November is also recognized at Native American History Day. The month and day are an opportunity to recognize, honor and celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native people. In the area now known as the United States, Native Americans have inhabited the land since time immemorial (before anyone can remember). And twenty-nine 29 federally recognized tribes call Washington state home.

Tacoma Public Schools serves about 700 self-identified Native American/Alaska Native students with over 100 U.S. federally recognized tribes represented. The federally funded TPS Indian Education program connects American Indian and Alaskan Native students and their families with culture, community, and educational support. 

“It is so important for all students to have some understanding of Native American history and culture,” Syth said. “But more than that, we want our native students to have connections with their cultural identity and feel a sense of pride in who they are and their unique history.”

The TPS partnership with the Puyallup Tribe goes well beyond the STI curriculum, they play a key role in supporting the district’s Indian Education program. “They truly value our native students in their academic and cultural journeys,” he said.

Syth believes more students may be eligible than the number enrolled: “Sometimes families don’t think they qualify because their child lacks tribal enrollment. But students are eligible for the Title VI Indian Education Program if their parent or grandparent has a tribal affiliation. We want to serve as many students as possible."

Students or families interested in the program can find more information on the district website or by emailing David Syth.

Media Contact

Dan Voelpel, Executive Director of Communications | 253-571-1015 |

About Tacoma Schools

Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


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