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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 8, 2001 - Issue 44


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Preparatory School Sends
90 Percent of Students to College


 by Nathan J. Tohtsoni The Navajo Times-August 30, 2001

FARMINGTON, NM - On a recent afternoon at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, the student body was choosing class officers while administrators were busy getting the first week of classes in order.

It's been 10 years since the Navajo Nation took control of Navajo Prep - the premiere college preparatory school for Navajo high school students.

According to pamphlets provided by the school, nearly 90 percent of its graduates enroll in institutes of higher learning. School officials credit summer enrichment programs and its staff for that success rate.

However as the school enters the 21st century, one of its buildings is as old as New Mexico's statehood with three others older than many of the students' grandparents. Four 32-room, two-story dormitories were expected to be built in the spring with hopes they would be ready for occupancy by this fall.

But as the 2001-2002 school year begins, the lone occupants of the $4.54 million shell of buildings are the arachnid species that have spun a home in the hollow hallways and bedrooms.

The buildings sit vacant because there was only enough money for the exteriors.

Relying on the Navajo Nation

The current dorms at the nation's top college prep school were constructed between 1912 and 1955.

The shells of the new dorms were constructed in April. Since then, school officials, board members and parents have met with the Navajo Nation Council's Education and Transportation & Community Development committees to request $2 million from the Navajo Nation's undesignated reserves.

However, Betty Ojaye, director of campus development, says since the contracting company has moved off the work site, the project needs to be re-bidded. Meaning, she added, the school is now asking for $3 million.

"We're really relying on the Navajo Nation Council," she said.

Ojaye said a reason they did not ask for the entire $6.5 million to complete the first of five phases three years ago was because the school anticipated locating other funding on its own.

Ojaye said although $2 million was not located, the school did locate funds for future phases.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs allocated $704,804 for phase two planning, the State of New Mexico allocated $140,000 for landscaping, San Juan County paved the parking lot and the city of Farmington will provide the infrastructure.

An additional $10.8 million was requested from the BIA's 2002 fiscal year budget. That funding would be used to renovate the existing dorms into classrooms, expand the gymnasium and construct an athletic field.

The school's master plan lists nine total dorms. The student body would increase from 224 to 300.

Over 100 years old

Although the school is a decade old, the campus and its history are more than a century.

The United Methodist Mission originally established the school in 1891. Navajo Methodist Mission operated the campus until 1976 when Navajo Academy moved from its site in Ganado, Ariz., to Farmington. The schools operated side-by-side until 1979 when the boards of trustees were combined, creating Navajo Mission Academy.

Later in the 1980s, the church got out of the education business. The Women Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church leased the property to its new occupants - Navajo Academy.

Navajo Academy operated until July 1991 when it faced financial difficulties and closed its doors.

Peterson Zah, who was tribal president at the time, and the late William Tso, council delegate from Shiprock, met with top Methodist Church officials in New York City about saving the school. Zah said an agreement was worked out and there was discussion about the tribe purchasing the land.

The tribal council responded by rescinding Navajo Academy's status and, with the State of New Mexico, sanctioned Navajo Preparatory School, Inc. as a grant school.

"We had a very humble beginning. We started with nothing," Ojaye said.

Ojaye served as Navajo Prep's first executive director from 1991 to 1998. She is currently in charge of locating funding for the new campus project.

Zah asked Ojaye to take over. At first, Zah said, she was hesitant, but he felt she was the only one who was capable of keeping the school open.

Ojaye said in between the closing of Navajo Academy and the opening of Navajo Prep, the daily functions were operated from an office at the Shiprock Shopping Center. Also, the school's supplies and furnishings were stored at the old Fairchild Semi-Conductor building in south Shiprock.

"This campus was completely empty," Ojaye said. "It was pretty much like that in the beginning. There was uncertainty; people didn't have faith the school would survive. People weren't willing to risk their careers."

Navajo Prep, Inc. negotiated a lease with the Methodist Church and operated for four years. In 1995, the Navajo Nation purchased the campus' property of 83.24 acres and its buildings for $575,000.

Ojaye said the property, at the time, was appraised at $3 million. The church retained 13 acres on the east end of campus.

Every student sent to college

"I'm just very proud about what Navajo Prep is doing," said Zah, advisor to the president of Arizona State University in Tempe. "One year they sent everybody to college - no school, anywhere, has that percentage. I'm glad I had a role in saving the school. As a result of that, I see what the students can do. The students are well equipped and they are ready for college."

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., toured the campus Aug. 8. Ojaye said the visit was beneficial, as the senator would lobby on the school's behalf during next year's budget appropriations.

Also, she added, Vice President Taylor McKenzie, an alumnus of Navajo Mission, has said he would lobby for the school.

A hogan was recently constructed on campus as part of the campus development. Ojaye says the hogan's dedication Sept. 19 will serve as a beginning.

"We believe once this is dedicated, everything else will fall into place," Ojaye said. "In our master plan, we set our vision and goal that the hogan would be the first building constructed in the heart of the campus, thereafter, the rest of the campus would be completed."

  Maps by Travel

Navajo Prep School
The mission of the school is to educate talented and motivated college-bound Navajo and other Native American youth who have the potential to succeed in higher education and become leaders in their respective communities. The school provides a rigorous academic program based on a strong foundation of Navajo philosophy supported by a residential environmnet that enhances individuality and independence. This mission is reflected in the School's motto, "Yisdeekáágóó Nat'áaanii -- Leading into the Future."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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