February 24, 2021
Las Vegas, N.M. – Eighth-grade students in Shiprock, New Mexico, have the chance to express themselves artistically in an after-school drama club, thanks to New Mexico Highlands University social work student Ericka John.
Going forward, John plans to build on the success of the drama club once COVID health orders make it safe for students to resume after-school activities, hopefully in August.
“My students love the drama club and it is a great way for the them to express their emotions in a safe place,” said John, an eighth-grade teacher at Tse Bit Ai Middle School in Shiprock. “It helps my students with anxiety because they get to act it out. The drama club is also a place they can socialize with their friends and help each other through providing peer support.”
John, who heads the English Department at her middle school, said that the drama club also helps the students with their education because they have to maintain good grades and good behavior in school to participate.
“The drama club is positive reinforcement for having success in school,” John said.
John, a Master of Social Work Student at the Highlands Farmington Center, lobbied her school principal in fall 2019 for permission to establish and direct the drama club.
“I decided to pursue a drama club because I saw it as a way to help keep kids out of trouble and give them a place to be creative. It’s also a place where they can express their individuality,” said John, who is a member of the Navajo Nation and Turtle Mountain Chippewa. She grew up in Shiprock on the Navajo reservation.
John and her students are eagerly looking forward to resuming the drama club and performing to their Shiprock community.
“Doing a public performance will be an important milestone in my students’ lives. It’s something that will give them a sense of pride,” John said.
Rey Martínez, a social work professor at the Highlands Farmington Center in the Facundo Valdez School of Social Work, said John had the courage to approach her principal for the sake of her students.
“Developmentally speaking, eighth grade is a year full of awkward and demanding transition,” Martínez said. “As a result of Ericka’s persistence, Shiprock youth have an opportunity to safely express themselves creatively in this drama club.”
Martínez said John has high expectations of the club members and encourages them to dream big.
“Club members learn to support each other nonjudgmentally as they strive to inspire their Navajo community through creative performance,” Martínez said.
Martínez said John has excelled in the Master of Social Work program at the Highlands Farmington Center.
“Ericka has emerged as a leader within her social work student cohort and possesses strong potential as a researcher. She is a creative and talented individual,” Martínez said.
John said she wants to use her Master of Social Work degree to continue working with children and adolescents on the Navajo reservation.
“I am looking at different opportunities, like working in the school system as a social worker, the foster care system, or women’s shelters,” John said. “Dr. Martínez encouraged me to work on my MSW at night after school so I can continue to serve my Navajo community. There are so many resources needed to prevent domestic violence and child abuse.”