Palm Springs Unified School District

History Comes Alive

Palm Springs Unified School District has partnered with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to implement a new curriculum that teaches students about the region’s indigenous people.

Julianna Hernandez Current Digital, History

Palm Springs Unified School District

Approximately 2,000 third-graders will embark on an educational discovery of the Agua Caliente people thanks to a pioneering partnership between the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Palm Springs Unified School District and the PSUSD Foundation.

This exploration originated through the implementation of a new curriculum specially created by the Tribe and PSUSD.

The co-authored curriculum is one of the first in California to meet state standards and teach elementary school students about their local Native American tribe. The Unit of Study, which contains 10 lessons, focuses on the history, culture, traditions, and modern life of the Agua Caliente people.

The state of California recently passed legislation that requires public schools to teach about their local tribes, but long before it was enacted, PSUSD and the Tribe were working together on an Agua Caliente–specific curriculum.

“We’re filling a huge gap because oftentimes, our history teachers — not only in Palm Springs Unified but all over the state and across the country — leave out this information, and it seems as if the lessons or the stories recede over time, and kids aren’t getting the information,” says PSUSD Foundation Director Ellen Goodman.

These lessons will enhance the usual social studies lessons and expand students’ knowledge of indigenous groups, helping them to become more culturally aware and sensitive.

“This partnership allows the Tribe to share our story
with the community in a new way.”
—Jeff L. Grubbe, Tribal Chairman

“This partnership allows the Tribe to share our story with the community in a new way,” says Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe. “Being able to share information about the Tribe’s history, culture, and modern times at the third-grade level will create a new awareness throughout Palm Springs, and it is truly an opportunity to create mutual respect among all cultures. We are grateful to the school district and PSUSD Foundation for this amazing partnership.”

The hands-on and experiential lessons include subjects such as basket weaving, bird singing, the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring, the Tribe’s migration story, rock art, tools and games, geography, and government.

Goodman says there are many ways third-graders grasp information, and the curriculum has been tailored to explore multiple educational experiences. For example, in one class, students will explore important people in Tribal history through a reader’s theater. On another day, a suitcase will roll into the classroom, and students who peek inside will find it full of authentic cultural items to touch and see. Baskets, pottery, photographs, and plants relative to the Tribe’s culture will be on display — their history will be brought to the students instead of being viewed in a museum, in videos, or in the pages of a book.

PSUSD will add an eighth-grade component later on to tie in with their history and government curriculum, and the fourth through seventh grades will still attend field trips to continue their Agua Caliente studies, one of which will include an outing with the Junior Ranger Program in the Indian Canyons.

“They’re going to learn at a very young age,” Goodman says. “They’re going to start to understand our local indigenous culture and the impact that it has had, and currently has, in our community. It will help them understand, respect, and value our Tribe. It will help them understand and respect their fellow classmates. They’ll get a sense of where they came from in the curiosity and the learning.”

This story originally appeared in MeYah Whae, The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Spring/Summer 2019. To read the current digital edition, click HERE.