Classroom Integration

An all-in-one storyteller, author and musician stopped by Bush Elementary School on Tuesday to visit with students.

Joseph Bruchac came to the school as part of the Arts Council for Chautauqua County’s tradition of bringing working and teaching artists into area schools and classrooms.

“We work with Jamestown, Sherman and Falconer school (districts), primarily,” said Len Barry, Arts Council program coordinator. “We use a lot of local artists, who come in and integrate their work into the classroom. And every once in a while, we’ll get somebody from out of town to come in, and this is one of those cases.”

Bruchac is a native of Greenfield Center, a suburb of Saratoga Springs, where he lives in the same house that his grandparents raised him in. Although his ethnic background also includes English and Slovak ancestors, his creativity stems heavily from his Native American heritage – specifically from the Abenaki and Mohawk tribes.

“I have a career as a writer and a storyteller, and I do a lot of work in schools, and I’m sort of continuing to do that here,” said Bruchac. “I do about 50 to 60 school programs a year throughout the country. I’ve been in every state in the country, including Alaska and Hawaii.”

Bruchac’s school programs include: traditional storytelling, taken from the northeastern native traditions of the Abenaki and Iroquois tribes; traditional music with drum, flute and rattles and the telling of lesson stories, which are entertaining but contain their own morals and meanings.

Since 1978, Bruchac has written more than 130 books for children and adults. His bestsellers are “Keepers of the Earth,” “Native American Stories” and “Environmental Activities for Children,” as well as other titles from his “Keeper” series. These books continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country.

He holds a doctorate in comparative literature, and he was a teacher for many years. In the 1980s, he became a freelance writer and storyteller.

“I felt it gave me more freedom to do the things I wanted to do without having to fit into an academic institution, and be limited by an academic institution,” he said.

Bruchac appeared before an assembly wearing his custom-made feather headdress and performed with his variety of instruments, while employing his storytelling methods. He then went to Amy Vezina’s fourth-grade class and held an open dialogue with the students, followed by a question-and-answer session. The overall message of his visit was, “aspire to be whatever you want to be.”

Barry said that Falconer Central School had been familiar with Bruchac’s work, and had requested that the Arts Council bring him in for a visit. Due to the funding that the Arts Council had for Sherman and Jamestown, Bruchac’s visit to Chautauqua County became a two-day affair. Following his visit to Bush, he went to Sherman Central School in the afternoon.

Bruchac will be at Falconer Central School today, visiting elementary and middle school students. He will be presenting and doing book signings at both Fenner Elementary School and the high school.

For more information about Bruchac and his achievements, including a list of his published works, visit www.josephbruchac.com.