In Middle School English Teacher Kara Ramirez’s class, students prepared to embark on writing and presenting their own original stories with some tips and tricks from special guest Tom Allard, a professional storyteller, actor, and activist who is part of the Loyal Shawnee band of the Cherokee Nation.

The students learned how storytelling can work as a tool for cultural preservation, validation, and many other purposes while reading and analyzing Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight to Heaven" based on the modern reservation experience. In a combined English/history research project, students researched the 13 biggest issues facing the Native communities at present.

Allard explained his process of creating a story: researching and understanding a time and place, considering the people involved, and finding a connection so that the story will matter to him and his audience. "He feels a responsibility to 'bring his audience back safely,' which is why it can be difficult to give voice to the Native American experience—a story often laced with trauma and pain," said Ramirez.

And so, with the lights dim and a (fake) fire going, Allard drew the 8th graders and Head of School Andrea Kassar in for the captivating Cherokee creation story last week. He also spoke to the class about his own background, how art and stories intersect (through the use of Native American items such as baskets, woven rugs with symbolic figures, and more), and his process to creating a story.

Westridge Middle School English students with guest Tom Allard