July 07, 2009

Native language summer schools

Native language summer schools growingA new Navajo language summer school is being offered by Albuquerque Public Schools this year in New Mexico.

The program aims to help American Indian children in the area stay connected to their heritage and motivate them to achieve more academically.

The Santa Fe-based Indigenous Language Institute which tries to preserve native languages says New Mexico, Washington, Oregon and North Dakota lead the country in allowing Native Americans to teach their languages in public school classrooms.

Robert Cook, the president of the National Indian education Association, says native language schools are growing nationwide.
Classes aim to preserve urban Indians' heritage

By Heather ClarkOn his first day of the summer program, Lucas learned about the Navajo Code Talkers and how they confounded the Japanese during World War II by transmitting messages in their native language.

"That really drew him in right away," Mike Arviso said. "Because of the language, a single word has so many different meanings."

While many of the families want the instruction because of practical reasons, like enabling their children to speak with relatives in their native language, Thompson also sees long-term educational benefits.

Research shows that becoming disconnected from their culture leads to a lack of motivation among Native American students and can leave students behind academically, Thompson said.

For example, among New Mexico 10th graders taking the state high school competency exam, only 47 percent of Native American students passed the first time, compared with 77 percent of white students, according to state Public Education Department data for the 2007-2008 school year.

"If the Native American children feel that their culture, their language, their heritage is valued in the school, they will be very motivated," Thompson said.

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