Marysville works to ‘de-colonize’ Native high school

TULALIP, Wash. — Imagine a high school with no tests, or even grades, a high school where the students lead the way in their own learning and pursue the interests they are truly passionate about.

That’s what’s happening on the Tulalip Indian reservation right now.

They’re calling it the “de-colonization of education.”

How students learn is just as important as what students learn at Marysville’s Tulalip Heritage High School.

“Students work to find what they’re passionate about,” said teacher Marina Benally. “It doesn’t mean a career. It’s what you are passionate about.”

Gone are the textbooks, exams and grading standards used in high schools forever. They’ve been replaced with conversations about what inspires students and makes them interested in learning.

Their curriculum is then built around that.

Students take the lead and are fully invested in their education.

“It’s really easier to process something that I actually want to know and am interested in and choose to do,” said student Raylee Lewis.

“It kind of helps me work on my own personal growth and my school goals,” added freshman Lilly Jefferson. “It’s actually really fun.”

Students spend three days per week in class and the rest pursuing their passions in the community through independent projects or internships.

If students are interested in marine biology, for example, they can work at the tribal fisheries.

It all culminates in a presentation at the end of the year where students prove their “mastery” of the subject matter.

The goal is to get away from the traditional European way of learning developed by white people and forced upon Native students for generations.

Principal Nathan Plummer calls it de-colonizing the classroom.

“What we’re getting away from is this idea of ​​there is one right answer, it’s in the back of the book, but don’t look at it and don’t talk to anybody because that’s cheating,” he said. “The rest of the world, though, calls that using resources and collaboration. So, we’re trying to break those walls down.”

The new curriculum is only in its third month but administrators say they’re already seeing a change in student attitude and performance.