New Roots Charter School students and staff celebrated Native American Heritage Month at the first student-led Community Meeting of the school year, featuring special guest performers. 

On Monday, November 28, 2022, New Roots Charter School students, teachers, and staff held a special Community Meeting honoring Native American History Month in the historic Martha Hamblin Hall at the Community School of Music and Arts in downtown Ithaca.

Sitting in a large circle, and facilitated by two members of the senior class, students and staff shared announcements and appreciations, then celebrated Native American Heritage Month with a special cultural performance by dancers from the Mohawk and Onondaga nations. New Roots parent Hawi Fitch, a member of the Mohawk nation who made traditional foods for the event, gave an introduction and held a question-and-answer session for students.

Chris Thomas and his Iroquois Smoke Dancers then shared a live performance featuring drumming, singing, and dancing, with students and staff invited to join in for several of the dances. Members of the dance troupe traveled from as far as Albany for the event.

Sue Schwartz, lead English teacher at New Roots and organizer of the event, said, “I was struck by the generosity of the performers to invite us into the dances, and by the ease and openness of the students to join in. Almost the whole school was dancing together at one point. We were learning about a new culture, but we weren’t reading about it, or watching a video. The students really built an authentic connection, and you could feel their enthusiasm.”

Schwartz thanked Fitch for being the driving force and visionary that made the event possible. “Hawi Fitch did all of the fundraising, cooked for us, and arranged for the dancers,” she said.

Seniors Dan Cooke and Watski Silver facilitate the program with support from Jhakeem Haltom, Dean of Students.  New Roots follows a student-centered, leadership-building model in which crews from each grade level plan and lead the whole-school monthly meetings. “At Community Meeting, students spotlight issues of interest to our school community, and learn key skills in public speaking to make announcements and facilitate community conversations,” said Haltom. “Our senior class was able to secure a performance by the traditional Haudenosaunee for Native American Heritage Month. This truly healed our heads, hearts, and feet as we danced to traditional drumming and song!”

“What an uplifting event to celebrate our first Community Meeting since Spring 2020,” said New Roots Principal and Superintendent Tina Nilsen-Hodges. “We are grateful to be in a position to fully restore our New Roots programs and community-based learning practices in the 2022-23 school year.”

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New Roots Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school serving grades 9-12 that is open to any young person who is eligible to attend high school in New York State.  Offering a private school education at a public school price, students prepare for lives of passion and purpose as they prepare to create and embrace new 21st century life opportunities through career and college preparation. Visit to learn more.

For more information, contact Michael Mazza, Director of Community Engagement at New Roots Charter School, at