And a preview of what’s to come for the state’s first Indigenous public charter school
Colorado’s first public Native American reservation charter school is in its flagship year, and while Kwiyagat Community Academy has come a long way since its first day on Aug. 23, it’s still expanding.
The pre-school educational institution teaching Ute Mountain Ute culture and language on the tribe’s reservation in Towaoc paves the way for native students.
As tribal council member Lyndreth Wall put it, KCA is “reversing” the dark days of boarding school that saw tribal students kicked off their reservations and “suffocated” every time they spoke their native language.
Now, young Native American minds have the opportunity to begin their schooling on their reservation. And they are taught to embrace their culture – not to turn away from it.
The children take part in 40 minutes of cultural classes a day, in activities that include learning letters or beating drums.
“Ideally we want the culture to last all day, not just 40 minutes,” said school principal Dan Porter.
But Mountain Ute Ute culture is woven into school days in other ways.
This can be seen in the way the school reflects nature.
For example, as part of the school’s continued expansion, children will soon be encouraged to resolve conflicts through a nature-based ‘path of peace’ being built outside the school. . It will be lined with key plants of Aboriginal culture.
The school also follows the Ute celebrations.
The last day of school is June 3 to coordinate with the tribe’s bear dance, an aboriginal tradition that celebrates spring and the awakening of the bear spirit.
The school is open to all students – not just members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
And he is registering for next year, especially for his new kindergarten class.
“The door is open for them,” Wall said.
The school will welcome a new second class at the start of the 2022-2023 school year. He plans to add a new class every year until grade five.
KCA strikes a “balance with the modern outside world” and the traditions of the sovereign nation, Wall said.
The school is accredited by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Charter School Institute.
It launched in August with 23 kindergarten and first-graders in a temporary modular building. He now has 27.
Since then, classes have moved to the official school building. In front of the entrance doors, the handprints of its first students, pressed into the concrete, welcome visitors.
The school also moved to four-day weeks in January to align with schools in Cortez.
Teaching students the Ute language, Shoshonean, is a core value. Language transfer has declined, marred by the forced assimilation rooted in the tribe’s boarding school days and the loss of elders who spoke it fluently.
It turns out that teaching the Ute language to children also influenced their parents.
“Their kid comes home and says those words to them,” Porter said.
“This is the most rewarding effort KCA has made for our children,” Wall added.
It is estimated that there are now just over 110 Ute Mountain Utes fluent in the language.
A spoken word dictionary released in November with more than 10,000 spoken words marked another major effort to revitalize the language.
One of the most rewarding moments of the school’s first year came when Porter saw a child welcoming a visitor all the way to Ute.
“I am Ute. I show up in Ute. Shoulder back, head up – that’s what we’re after. It’s happening,” Porter said.
As Wall describes it, the Ute language “is like the outline of Sleeping Ute Mountain”. Like other members of the tribe, he doesn’t want to see it lost on emerging generations.
When it comes to school leadership, Porter is a hands-on director. He believes in project-based learning in conjunction with the core curriculum.
When The newspaper visited KCA, Porter’s truck bed was filled with lumber for a carpentry project with the students.
And it encourages open lines of communication with children.
“My office is primarily the children’s home,” he said.
There are small, child-sized wooden desks where he encourages students to sit and tell him about their days – and any problems they might have to solve.
Children are also encouraged to “self-regulate” with practices such as breathing exercises or warrior poses. They serve as additional measures to prevent penalties where possible.
When The newspaper visited the school, a girl approached and said “hello” with a hug.
She’s come a long way socially, having been left out of school three times instead of getting on the school bus in Cortez, Porter said.
Fresh off of a 25-year career with the Montezuma-Cortez School District, Porter has made it clear that he is an advocate for Cortez schools, and members of the Montezuma-Cortez School Board have visited the school, told he declared.
But, KCA offers Aboriginal children a different learning experience that is more closely tied to their culture.
The expansion of the school is a long-term effort. For example, next week Wall will attend a legislative conference in Denver to speak on behalf of the school and advocate for more funding. Tribal Council member Selwyn Whiteskunk also serves as liaison for the school.
A play area is in the works, and Porter said it will help hone children’s gross and fine motor skills. One day the school hopes to add a library.
“Everyone is coming together to make these things happen,” Porter said.
Porter and Wall praised KCA’s teachers. The school is recruiting reading specialists, a part-time special education teacher and a classroom teacher.
“I appreciate the energy and success that each educator brings to KCA,” Wall said. “It keeps moving forward.”
And, like other neighboring districts, the school is considering raising teacher salaries as part of a new $50,000 starting salary for New Mexico teachers.
Of course, the teaching experience at KCA is unique, Porter said. And teachers engage their students in relatively large classrooms.
“We’ve done a good job of outfitting the classrooms,” Porter said.
Richard Fulton, retired dean of the Fort Lewis College School of Education and former charter school principal, helps the school write grant applications and manage projects.
Like many others, he has “big dreams” for the future of the school.
“We need this education now,” Fulton said, adding that the school is “bringing back the traditions, the customs” that were once discouraged in boarding schools.
“We know where we come from,” Wall said. “And when you know where you come from, you have a better base.”
Wall expects many stories of language, culture and curriculum to emanate from the school’s red and yellow walls.
“I want KCA to survive, and it will survive,” he said.