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Second Grade History Detectives Explore the Ohlone People Past and Present
Rachel Freeman

The Nueva School campuses, like the rest of the Bay Area, sit on land that was once inhabited by the Ohlone people. To learn more about and celebrate the people on whose land we learn, second graders did a deep dive into the past and present lives of the Ohlone people. Their research culminated last Thursday with the second annual—and first in-person!—Ohlone Conference, where students presented to each other the questions they explored, the information they learned, and what they hope to investigate next. 

In pairs, second graders spent four weeks analyzing articles, listening to audio recordings, watching videos, and interpreting primary source photos to learn more about this indigenous nation of the San Francisco Peninsula. Students researched questions ranging from “Who are Ohlone changemakers?” and “What do Ohlone changemakers do all day” to “What are Ohlone customs and celebrations?” and “How do the Ohlone people respond to nature, weather, and natural disasters?”

To introduce the conference, second grade teacher Izzy Mayer said, “This is about learning from your classmates as much as it is about you presenting.”

During the conference, one by one pairs stood up in front of their peers and shared their research process, including what sources they used and what answers they found, before taking questions from the audience. 

“Our topic was land management,” Josh B. said. “We wanted to learn about this topic because we were interested in learning about Ohlone land.”

His partner Shuxian D. added, “We learned about wildfires and different kinds of pine cones. We learned that fires have always been a part of California’s landscape.”

“We chose our topic [of Ohlone customs] because we wanted to learn about all of the rich cultures of the Ohlone tribe,” said Dawson Z., who worked with Jude S. on their project.

During Emily L. and Avi T.’s presentation, Emily shared that in the past and still to today “male dancers represent warriors, protectors, and storytellers.” 

“It was especially important that the questions students explored not just touched on who the Ohlone people were,” second grade teacher Samantha Stevens explained, “but also who the Ohlone people are.” 

This focus underpins much of the learning throughout our youngest division. Lower School Division Head Megan Terra, who also attended the Ohlone Conference, said, “Across the curricula in the lower school, we want to lift up a broad representation of communities and share not only who they have been but also their vibrancy now.”

Once all the presentations were finished, students and teachers shared appreciations to one another. 

Jonah Z. shared, “I appreciate Alistair and William because they took a lot of time on their poster.” 

Owen R. appreciated his classmates, Logan and Ellie “for being brave and going first.” 

Following the conference Megan reflected on how impactful culminations like these are for students.

“One thing the second grade team does beautifully is having culminations of their learning throughout the year,” Megan said. “This is a special space that allows students to highlight what they have learned, and it demonstrates the importance of shared learning.” 

In addition to learning about the Ohlone people, this project also helps students build key foundational skills. 

“This is such a great interdisciplinary project,” Megan said. “In science, they have done local ecology studies, and learned about indigenous and colonized plants. There is also a key focus on reading, writing, and communication skills, as well as listening skills and partnership skills.”

It was clear to all those in attendance last week, the second grade history detectives met the challenge they were given, orating proudly and sharing a vast array of information on who the Ohlone people were and who they continue to be. 

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