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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Sedona Students Get Educated Hopi-Style

by Suetopka Thayer The Navajo-Hopi Observer
credits: art by Amado Pena
art by Amado PenaIn 1942, a globally thinking couple, Hamilton and Barbara Warren, who originally met in Guatemala, came to Arizona and together with the assistance of skilled Hopi construction workers created a private school in Sedona.

The school, known as the Verde Valley School originally started with 16 students and a handful of teachers and artists. VVS was and is committed to creating a school that would foster an environment that would promote the mission of "learning to live and think as world citizens so we can help the world toward peace."

"Our job and the world's job - is to achieve cooperation and understanding among ourselves, within our families and communities, between labor and management, among racial and religious groups, and among nations. Verde Valley has been founded in the belief that this is the first step towards real world security. Our nation has become great through the combined talents and skills of peoples of many racial origins who are now American citizens. So when we are prejudiced against "foreigners", we are really prejudiced against ourselves. We must learn to understand the thoughts, the ambitions, the sentiments of other peoples and of those groups within our own country with different cultural backgrounds," Hamilton Warren said in 1949.

It is with this sentiment and the thought that a genuinely educated person is not simply one who has attained academic or personal success, that Verde Valley aspires to. The VVS philosophy believes that a truly educated person possesses a strong sense of ethics, personal and social responsibility that will allow them to truly participate in community building and effective decision making, appreciating the value of hard physical work, the discovery of artistic expression, cultural heritages from all cultures and generosity of self and spirit.

Ever since 1942 field trips like this one have brought Verde Valley students to Hopi. This year VVS brought eight students and two sponsors from their Sedona school to stay a week through sponsoring host family, Rethema and Brian Honyouti of Hotevilla.

In a renovation project that started in the fall of 1997, VVS art teacher, Thom Dougherty met Marion Peralta of Hotevilla who expressed a need for roof repair and interior renovation of her home. Mrs. Peralta was open to a partnership with VVS and its educational/cultural outreach program. A friendship and construction project was born with a win-win situation for both parties. Mrs. Peralta would get her house repaired and art teacher Dougherty could provide a short term educational and cultural experience for his students.

This week, eight VVS students, ages 14 to 20, were here on Hopi to learn, observe and work on the now 5 year renovation project. The reason for the length of the project and its gradual approach is that the students are only able to devote one week during one academic year. VVS students are housed by host Hopi families but cook and eat their meals together with the Peralta family.

One of the highlights of the Hopi trip, was that the students happened to be here on a week-end that Hotevilla was sponsoring a night dance. Students were able to see Kachinas on both Saturday night and Sunday during the day.

Ames Yates, originally from New York and a sophomore at VVS, "Mrs. Peralta and Cinco Chapman of Hotevilla were gracious enough to let us learn by working on this project on their property. My Dad is originally from Wyoming and he has strong ties to the land there as well as in the southwest. It was fun to have to work really hard. I feel really good about the project, it was nice to do something really meaningful for someone of another culture. The dances were amazing. We watched from the top of the kivas. I can't say enough about how lucky I felt to see traditional dances like these. I won't forget the experience."

New to this country and American educational settings, VVS junior, Gift Chombwe, who is originally from Africa, came to the Sedona school through his brother-in-law who when asked what he thought about his week here at Hopi, Chombwe said, "I primarily came on this field trip to see a comparison of my own African culture to one of a native heritage. There are so many similarities, the dances, the traditions, how Hopis welcome strangers like myself to their village like my own people in Africa are taught to do. The dances were really incredible, and so very meaningful."

"I cannot help but think about what the Hopis ask God to do for all the world's people. It was really beautiful. I hope to return here again."

Art teacher and VVS field trip sponsor, Dougherty continually stressed that the VVS primary purpose of these field trips was for the kids to learn in a cultural environment. He sees the time spent in other cultural areas as life changing with a concentrated effort to building respect for other people. These field trips are the epitome of the VVS philosophy. Giving VVS students enough well-rounded experiences to help them think for themselves.

Sponsoring Hopi host family, the Honyoutiís, youngest daughter, Rachel, attended VVS through the Native American and Jackson Brown funded scholarship program. Other Hopis who have attended this prestigious school include Somana Suetopka Thayer, now Mrs. Somana Yaiva, VVS Alumni, also of Hotevilla, and two students from village of Upper Moencopi, as well as famed artist and Hopi weaver, Ramona Sakiestewa of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

VVS is constantly looking for Native students who show academic promise and whose parents will work with their administration in providing a partnership approach to their students education.

Verde Valley School
Verde Valley School educates students for college and for life by encouraging them to become intellectually curious, academically accomplished and creatively expressive. The program fosters intercultural understanding and world citizenship, environmental stewardship, the value of physical labor and service to humanity with a willing spirit.

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


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