While it is true that children are our future, teachers that interact with them daily in their classrooms are their present and what they learn will determine their future success. Parents who have students attending the Soboba Tribal Preschool and the Noli Indian School on the Soboba Indian Reservation, got to hear firsthand what this year’s expectations are during Back-to-School Nights held Aug. 24 and 26, respectively.
Donovan Post, who is the preschool’s Director and Noli’s Principal, said it was great to be able to have in-person events for the parents to visit the classrooms and meet their children’s teachers face-to-face. The past two years’ back-to-school nights were held virtually due to the pandemic’s restrictions and precautions.
Back for her second year teaching the kindergartners, Sierra Vivanco is looking forward to the new school year which involves collaboration with Noli students and teachers. Tashina Miranda Ornelas, Culture Department Coordinator/Instructor, said her students will be doing many more hands-on cultural activities with the young children. Science and Agriculture teacher Jay Dagostino has become a regular at the preschool, helping the students learn about growing vegetables in their school’s garden and bringing STEM activities to the kindergarten class every Friday that reinforce that week’s lesson plan.
Vivanco said the difference this year is she will be taking more time with routines and reviews before moving on to lots of new material. A new curriculum was introduced to teachers during the last school year. All 21 of her students attended Pre-K at the preschool so they have the advantage of being familiar with the layout of the school and all the staff.
“Now that we’ve had more time with the curriculum, we know what to concentrate on and where to fill in any gaps,” she said. “Before we fully implement assigned ‘class jobs’ we want the children to get used to being here all day.”
Joseph and Victoria Bentiste said their son, Joseph Jr., was happy to be in the same kindergarten class with his cousin, Luchi. His 7-year-old brother Aiden had been a student at the preschool and said it prepared him well for San Jacinto Valley Academy where he attends.
“They have an open-door policy here which is a lot different from most schools,” Joseph Sr. said.
The preschool’s office manager, Amber Lopez, helped organize the evening’s event that welcomed parents to the campus to visit the classrooms, chat with the teachers and learn about several of the partners that assist throughout the school year. Representatives from Soboba Fire and Department of Public Safety greeted everyone and talked a little bit about the safety programs they would be introducing to each class. Approximately 60 students are divided between the 3-year-old classroom, Pre-K and kindergarten. Each age group gets specialized lessons based on their knowledge and experience.
Also available for questions and to offer resources were representatives from Soboba Tribal Family Services and Acorns to Oak Trees, a nonprofit Tribal organization that assists with early intervention to improve learning for young children. Riverside University Health System-Public Health offered handouts and take-home activities about healthy eating. They recently started a bimonthly Wellness Program at the school and shared with parents what they can expect their children to be learning and hopefully sharing with family members.
Soboba Tribal TANF was on hand to share resources and information about academic and cultural classes that are readily available year-round through their program, located next door to the preschool campus.
Three new teachers are bringing their skills and enthusiasm to Noli this year. Lend Frison III is teaching English to 6-8 grade students and elective photography and videography classes as well as a student-driven yearbook class. Filmmaking is his real passion and he is excited to ignite that in the students as they learn to make mini-documentaries and more.
“I like empowering kids to learn how to tell their own stories,” he said. “I love seeing kids walking around campus with cameras in their hands, eager to learn. Everything I teach them, they can use right away.”
Brianna Livings is the new art teacher and printmaking is her specialty. Her goals are to give students an overall appreciation of art and to learn how to be more open-minded.
“This will help them no matter what path they take,” she said. “They should always take other people’s ideas, perspectives and viewpoints into account. I also want them to be more aware of visual imagery and to learn how to critique and not criticize.”
She will be joining Dagostino for fifth period STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) classes, and is looking forward to the collaboration.
Kekai Bryant is teaching high-school level introduction to technology, math 1, 2 and 3 and algebra. Math is her passion and she loves teaching so she plans to combine them to get students interested in learning more about the subject.
“I want to try and engage them by making the math lessons fun and relatable,” she said. “To love math, you have to not be afraid to take risks or give wrong answers. Be confident in your approach and in the answer you give; not everyone arrives at the correct answer in the same way.”
Tanya Briones-Rivera has four children attending Noli this year where she works in the cafeteria and as a coach for middle school sports. She also assists with registration and other projects as needed.
“I wanted my kids to be here because of the culture classes offered,” she said. “But I also like the smaller classes which allows the teachers to give more attention to each student.”
Briones-Rivera is partnering with Camille Diaz, who also works at Noli, to build up the school’s Booster Club once again.
“We want to work with ASB to get more activities for the kids and more parents involved on campus,” she said.
Post said that a lot of emphasis is being placed on partnerships with parents at both schools. The preschool looks forward to hosting many events where family members will be invited to campus to share in the students’ activities. With a strong sports program getting underway at Noli, the middle/high school is hoping to build momentum with lots of participation by families.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians