Every November for the past decade, alum Beth Morris-Wong has donned her full tribal regalia to teach her elementary school students about her tribe during American Indian month.
“We’ve had a few kids in our school who are American Indian, but a lot of the kids are shocked because I don’t fit the stereotype that everyone has,” said Morris-Wong, who is Metis (mixed European and Delaware Lenni-Lenape Indian ancestry) and works as a teacher-librarian in South Hayward, California. “When most people think of American Indians, they think of the Plains or the Southwestern tribes, but we are Northeastern Woodland Indians.”
Morris-Wong earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in teaching from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, and decided to pursue a library science degree in part through the encouragement of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. In 1994, the organization gave Morris-Wong a sponsorship to present her master’s thesis on teaching science using American Indian legends at its annual conference in San José, where she met several other American Indian students who attended San José State University. A recruiter told her about the school’s library science program.
Morris-Wong received the California Library Association’s multi-ethnic scholarship, which paid for her tuition for two years so she could earn her MLIS degree. While enrolled in the MLIS program, she found camaraderie through the American Indian Community Center in San José. Their support helped see her through a difficult first year of graduate school that included a major medical problem, which was misdiagnosed as cancer.
“I moved 3,000 miles to attend SJSU,” she said. “All of my family was in Canada or on the East Coast. At the time I was 25 and one of the youngest students in the MLIS program. Without support from the American Indian community and the scholarship, I wouldn’t have my current job.”
While at SLIS, Morris-Wong worked in a range of different libraries — from a medical library to Adobe System’s corporate library — before deciding that she really wanted to work with children. She graduated in 1999 and went to work for the San Lorenzo School District before joining her current district, New Haven Unified.
“I really like what I do because I get to see every grade in the school (kindergarten through fifth grade) once a week and teach the kids library skills,” she said.