Awareness at work

FHS, Hardin, Browning students work together
Thursday, April 18, 2019
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Yellowstone Newspaper photo by Charlie Denison

Marie Five of Hardin High School works on her diagram last Wednesday during the Unreserved Student Ambassador program.

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Yellowstone Newspaper photo by Charlie Denison

Journey Erickson of Hardin High School holds up the diagram she made during last Wednesday’s Unreserved workshop, which covers her heritage, a hurdle, happiness and hope. For heritage, she brought a picture of her great-grandparents, for hurdle she focused on an injury sustained from running, for happiness she brought a picture of her cross-country team and for hope she brought a picture of her with her great-grandmother – a woman she wants to make proud.

Those involved in Dani Phillips’ Unreserved Student Ambassador Program last Wednesday at Fergus High School were pleased with the opportunity to participate in talk circles, art making and more with students from different cultural backgrounds.

A total of 76 students participated in the program: 15 from Fergus, 38 from Hardin and 23 from Browning.

“I wanted to get students collaborating, not just competing,” she said.

Phillips, a Fergus graduate, former student teacher at Browning and current English teacher at Hardin, put this event together to “infuse in young people that they are valuable and can make an impact.”

During the all-day event, Phillips was pleased to see students making the most of it, working together as they filled out diagrams sharing about their personal heritage, hurdles, happiness and hope.

“It’s been a good way to get out of my comfort zone,” said Hardin High School student Journey Erickson.

“This was a great reminder to keep an open mind,” said FHS student Libbey Jenness. “We are all human and we all have struggles.”

FHS student Sam Fulbright also enjoyed the experience.

“It was great to work with students from Hardin and Browning in this kind of setting,” he said, “and it was a great project to work on. I learned a lot about myself by doing this exercise and having to identify my heritage, a hurdle, my happiness and hope. For my hurdle, I chose ‘pride.’ I don’t want to be too proud. I want to do my best to stay humble.”

“I really liked this project,” added HHS student Conner Schwend. “You can go a lot of places with it.”

Retired HHS volleyball coach Laura Sundheim said she was particularly impressed with how the students responded to the workshop.

“It was great to see the students so willing to share,” she said. “There were some tough conversations regarding the hurdles, and it was nice they were able to follow that up with something that made them happy. It was also neat to see the Native Americans share with Fergus students why their dancing is so important to them, and what four-day fasting means to them. They also talked about similarities, which involved some bullying and resilience in general. I’d say overall it’s been very inspiration and eyeopening.”

Phillips said she’s received much positive feedback from the program and is encouraged moving forward.

“I have a page of notes already written up for how I would go about doing some things better next

year, hoping this continues,” she said, “but today we got some really cool art products that work as a stamp for the program.”

Phillips added she’s grateful for all the support she received.

“The staff I had were allstars,” she said. “It meant a lot to me to see my mentors mentoring many of the kids and forming relationships with them. A lot of kids commented on how awesome the adults were.”

All in all, Phillips said the event was a success, but it was also a learning experience, as she found herself stepping back and taking another look at what the program can truly accomplish.

“Life leaves too many people questioning, ‘Am I important?’ and it just hit me yesterday that the program’s structure can instead inspire the question, ‘How am I important?’” she said. “I think the speakers and staff really inspired the belief that we can determine in life how we want to be important and work towards feeling how we want to feel.”

The panel of former athletes Megan Halstead, Steven Davis, Merritt Grace Davis and educator Kelly Elder also impressed her with their positive messages, as they encouraged students to break down walls by building relationships, practice being successful, prepare for success and have courage to find their own route.

“The speakers were one of the highlights of the day,” Phillips said. “They were ‘on.’ What they covered – and how seamlessly and sincerely they shared about their lives – was inspiring.”

The speakers talked about their mentors, how they came to discover what they wanted to do for a career and how they nourish their happiness.

Former professional pole-vaulter Merritt Grace Davis focused particularly on self-motivation, telling those in attendance that – with the right habits and the right work ethic – they can fulfill their dreams. She also encouraged students to try and combine what they love, what they’re good at and what the world needs.

Her husband, Steven, a former Montana State University basketball standout, shared similar sentiments and applauded the students present for participating in Unreserved.

“I admire your courage to sit with strangers and talk about your hurdles, hopes and dreams,” he said.

Such courage can be crucial in the stream of life, added Megan Halstead, who encouraged students to be themselves and find their own route.

“There are just as many pathways as there are people in the world,” she said. “Keep your mind on your end goal.”

Elder, a former FHS teacher and former Montana Teacher of the Year, encouraged students in attendance to follow their passion and keep their drive alive.

Phillips said there were a lot of highlights last Wednesday, including the closing ceremony.

“Jayden Yarlott of Hardin did a percussion solo. He started twirling the drumsticks in his right hand and really, truly was unreserved, as he is more of a shy kid in my classes. That hit me hard. His part transitioned into Roger Other Medicine coming in with Native American drumming and singing,” Phillips said. “Lastly, Kylee Old Elk and Alaina Woods (two of my freshman) came in and sang and led everyone in a Round Dance before they led the group with what is called a Push Dance. Kylee’s voice is well known in Hardin and it was striking. What is amazing is that about six couples got up randomly – some kids from BHS and some from HHS – and did the push dance.”

Just the beginning

Phillips hopes Unreserved helped motivate, inspire, educate and empower students from all three respective schools. Browning High School language arts teacher Gus Garces is optimistic, saying he believes this program has a promising future at a critical time, and he hopes to see other programs follow suit.

“I’d say this is that first pebble that’s thrown into a placid lake, and now we’re watching the ripples move,” he said. “Now, we need people to feel it and see its potential.”


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