The Nay Ah Shing Tribal School of Onamia said farewell to Silvia Norberg, the principal of Abinoojiiyag School (kindergarten through fifth grade), last week as she began her new journey into retirement.
The school was developed in 1975 with a mission to provide educational services for the reservation children of three districts about the Ojibwe language, culture, tradition, history and skill sets of living in a mixed culture. Norberg has been with the tribal school since 1995 but started preparing for a career in education at a young age.
Born in Guatemala, Central America, Norberg began her focus on teaching while attending high school. Norberg attended Colegio para Señoritas La Inmaculada and continued at the University of Mariano Galvez of Guatemala to receive a degree in education. She taught elementary students for five years in her homeland as well as a class for adults learning the Spanish language at the high school in the evening.
“After I left Guatemala and came to the United States in 1981, I took some time off of teaching to learn English. It was very hard for me. I really had to focus and study. I self-taught myself and took some classes,” Norberg said.
She taught as a substitute and got a Minnesota temporary license to teach Spanish. Then Norberg and her husband moved to St. Croix Virgin Islands for several years. There, she taught Spanish as second language for approximately six years and developed a program for Good Hope Country Day School.
“They didn’t have any Spanish program as second language, so I initiated that program from kindergarten to fifth grade. Puerto Rico was very close. The children who went to the school, some of them have families in Puerto Rico. The kids really learned and utilized the language. I had a lot of fun doing that and sharing my first language,” Norberg said.
The couple moved to Minnesota in the 1990s. After teaching Spanish for so many years, Norberg wanted a change. She decided to explore her options and was given an opportunity to apply for Nay Ah Shing School as the Ojibwe language coordinator in 1995. The position did not require that she know the Ojibwe language, but it did require language teaching experience, which Norberg had plenty of. Her tasks were to coordinate the language program and get people interested in it. She obtained a few books and music of the language and hired Ojibwe-speaking teachers.
“That’s when I began my journey working with the Mille Lacs Band,” she said.
After about five years as language coordinator, Norberg was offered the position of curriculum coordinator. She accepted and did this for several years. At that time, Norberg continued her education at St. Mary’s University for her master’s degree. The school offered her the job of assistant principal, a position she held for 10 years. She then continued her education at St. Cloud University and received a principal licensure for kindergarten through 12th grade. For the last three years, she has been principal of the Nay Ah Shing School.
“For me education has always been very important. I was enjoying to learn and share whatever I know with whoever wants to learn. Education is something that nobody can take away from you,” Norberg said.
In the last 20 years at the tribal school, Norberg has noticed major changes in teaching.
“Our children can read now. The parents can see the results. The children can read with a lot of fluency and understanding. We try to provide the children with all the up-to-date standards of education. We follow the Minnesota standards. It’s a lot more push for children to learn more and more. Mathematics is stronger. Our students have been going to the university during the summer for a Gift and Talent camp. They have the opportunity to have interactivity with children all over the nation,” Norberg said.
She demonstrates great support for the Ojibwe culture and language and enjoys watching the kids’ progress over the years.
“I would like the community to know that it has truly been a pleasure to work for the Mille Lacs Band. My heart and my thoughts will be forever with them. And I will go and visit them here and there,” she said.
The future holds adventure for Norberg. She plans to spend time with her family, both in Minnesota and Guatemala. She and her husband organize mission trips with their church to her native country. Norberg looks forward to crafting, painting and sewing, as well as spending time on her farm in Jacobson.
“I’ve been having very emotional days. I feel very humble and honored,” Norberg said.
According to Norberg, the band has been very gracious about her retirement celebrations. An open house was held on June 4 at Eddy’s Lake Mille Lacs Resort. On Friday she kept receiving text messages from her co-workers urging her to hurry in to work because there was a problem. She came to find out that her fellow teachers threw a surprise breakfast along with an afternoon cake social.