3.24.2007

Dine Bizaad Shilnili: The Navajo Language Immersion School in Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation

Many American Indians were forcibly sent away to Indian boarding schools across the country. (Read about one of these schools in The Porto Rican Indians of The Carlisle School.) The idea was to eradicate the native language and culture by crushing of the children's spirits.

Thankfully, times have changed and today Indian children are gaining new educational options with new opportunities to learn state mandated content as well as the native language and culture.

The current issue of Education Week has done a series on the Navajo Language Immersion School in Fort Defiance, Arizona. It's a school in which Indian children are taught in English and in Navajo.

The series is in three parts:

Part 1 is an article A Culture Put to the Test: For Navajo children, a rigorous program draws on tradition to spur achievement by Mary Ann Zehr, in which the Navajo Language Immersion School's success is examined.

The K-8 school with 235 students in the Window Rock Unified School District, here on the reservation of the Navajo Nation, draws on both Navajo tradition and modern accountability tools to improve student achievement.
Part 2 includes an interview with Laurinda Davis Moore, a Navajo mother who's enrolled her children--Lailauni, Malayne and Latreyal--in the Navajo Language Immersion School. Laurinda mentions that her parents attended an Indian Boarding School where they were punished for speaking Navajo.

The audio is linked to photos which capture a bit of the Moore's life at home and at school.

A nice complement to the school's program is the presence of Nellie Curley, a Navajo elder who spends time in school helping the children with their language lessons.

Part 3 are short audio interviews with Navajo parents. The first is with Delphine Chief, a devout Baptist who prefers to home school her children. The second is with Laulani Moore, 13, whose parents regret not having learned Navajo. And the third is with Nancy Yazzie who chose the Navajo School for her children so that they could learn the language and culture so that they could pass it on to future generations.

But does it work academically? Yes. The Deseret Morning News found that "[s]tandardized test scores...showed that after two years of immersion in the Navajo language, students actually fared better in English than peers who did not learn Navajo."

Also, read Navajo Language in the Navajo Nation by Carolyn Joy Wiles (ESLGlobe, NC State University, Spring 2006)

Photo Credit: Christopher Powers/Education Week