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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 26, 2002 - Issue 54


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Charter School Lets Pala Children Enjoy Class Close to Home

by Christine Millay Staff Writer Sign on San Diego-January 12, 2002
credits: Pala Asistencia circa 1875
Pala Asistencia circa 1875PALA INDIAN RESERVATION -- A one-way bus ride from Thomas San Miguel's home on the Pala Indian Reservation to his first-grade class at Bonsall Elementary School took 45 minutes.

Now that Thomas, a fourth-grader, has transferred to Vivian Banks Charter School on reservation property, he doesn't need to ride the bus. His parents drop him off at the campus on Pala Mission Road, two blocks from home.

"He wanted to come back here," said Thomas' dad, Roy San Miguel. "It's nice that he doesn't have to take that bus ride. It's a long drive."

Eliminating Pala students' lengthy bus trip was one of the reasons the Bonsall Union School District opened the campus in 1996. Officials named the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school after Vivian Banks, an American Indian who served on the school board from 1944 to 1990.

The campus is a school of choice, meaning pupils who live in the district can attend Vivian Banks or Bonsall Elementary. This school year, Vivian Banks has 128 pupils and Bonsall Elementary, also a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade campus, has about 960.

Stories and activities related to Indian heritage and culture are part of the curriculum at the Vivian Banks school.

"I make it pretty much a daily integration," said first-grade teacher Virginia Cavasos. " ... I continually try to validate who they are and make them proud. That's why I constantly bring it up. If they are proud of who they are, when they go out into the real world, they have that much more going for them because no one's going to break them down and make them feel unvalued."

The school is run according to its charter, a 15-page document written in 1995 that describes 13 rules and standards the principal, teachers, parents and students are expected to follow. The charter also outlines the structure of the school's governing group, the Vivian Banks Charter School Council, which consists of the principal, six staff members and six parents.

The council is mainly responsible for monitoring student achievement. It also has the power to make decisions, including those involving dress codes, curriculum changes and student discipline.

Charter schools get the same per-pupil funding from the state as other schools, but operate free of many state and local education regulations, giving educators more leeway to develop programs.

State grants also are available for charter schools. Bonsall school district leaders planned to apply for a state grant this month. The money would be used to further enhance the Vivian Banks school's programs and curriculum.

The Vivian Banks school's charter is up for renewal at the end of this school year. District Superintendent Jefrey Schleiger said school officials have suggested adding guidelines to the document, based on comments from parents at two on-campus meetings Dec. 3.

One proposed addition is to increase students' exposure to Indian heritage. Schleiger said district officials are discussing ways to accomplish that goal with parents, including Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. Smith's two daughters attend Banks.

Dwight Thompson, a Bonsall trustee, said district officials must work with Pala residents to ensure the students' needs are met.

"The native American culture and history is very important not just to the people of Pala, but to us as well," Thompson said.

The white buildings with red tile roofs of the Vivian Banks school sit on a flat parcel owned by the Pala Mission. The mission operated a school on the site until 1994, and the church maintains a presence on the Vivian Banks campus. Adjacent to the door of the school office is the entrance to the pastor's home. Three nuns live in a house next to the school's playground.

High hills and an abundance of blue sky give the school a sheltered, peaceful atmosphere. At recess students pass under two rows of mature olive trees that divide their blacktop play area. Recent rains have knocked many olives off the trees, and the smashed fruit covers parts of the playground.

The bucolic setting, combined with the caring nature of the school staff, is what makes the school a special place, Schleiger said.

"Everybody has the best interest of kids in mind," he said.

The school's secretary, Teresa Suarez, knows most of the students and parents so well that she has occasionally driven children to school if they were unable to get there any other way, said Pat Tippit, Vivian Banks' interim principal.

"There's a bond here that's really special," Tippit said. "I feel like the kids are my grandchildren."

Vivian Banks Charter School


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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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