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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 15, 2002 - Issue 63


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Southern Ute School Adds 4th-grade Class

by Brian Newsome Durango Herald Staff Writer
credits:Clockwise from left: Carol Olguin, principal of the Southern Ute Academy in Ignacio, helps elementary school teachers Ann Peck, Cecelia Ross and Pat Hauschild pack up a classroom for the summer Thursday.

IGNACIO, CO - It's summer and teachers at the Southern Ute Indian Academy are excited – for the next school year.

The budding Montessori school, which last school year accommodated infants to 9-year-olds, has received the OK from the Tribal Council to expand to the fourth grade.

"We're excited," said Ann Peck, a teacher for the lower-elementary students, ages 7 to 9. "We are very excited that the council believes in the school."

The added grade level is the first step in a plan to expand the school all the way through sixth grade in the next three years, said Arnold Santistevan, director of public education and administration for the tribe.

The Tribal Council has shown "that education is still a No. 1 priority," Santistevan said Thursday.

Adding the fourth grade will allow the school's third-grade students to continue attending the academy next year, but it is not expected to take students out of Ignacio 11-JT School District, Santistevan said. About nine students are expected to make up the first fourth-grade class.

"We are very pleased with what we've been able to accomplish thus far in helping students realize their educational potential," he said. "We hope to further their success by eventually providing education up to 12 years old."

For teachers it means better preparing the children for their futures in junior high and high school. The Montessori teaching philosophy encourages children to be self-motivated learners and provides for independent study. Fourth grade, teachers said Thursday, is a key developmental time for a child.

"It's in a developmental (phase) when they're still growing and learning," Peck said.

Turning them over to public schools or other forms of teaching would be a significant adjustment, whereas in the sixth grade they are better prepared, said Patricia Hauschild, also a lower-elementary teacher.

"These students we start with, we want to keep," Hauschild said.

Lower-elementary teacher Cecelia Ross was excited about the expansion not only as a teacher, but as a parent. Her daughter will be in next year's class. Her daughter, she said, excels at the academy because she's an independent learner and "doesn't work well under pressure."

Ross believes her daughter would be better prepared for learning in a different environment after at least one more year at the school.

"We believe that our students will have the confidence in their abilities ... that no matter where they go they'll do well," Peck said.

Santistevan said there are no plans for the school to expand beyond the sixth grade, or the 12-year-old level. By then, he said, students should be well-equipped for junior high.

Students at the Southern Ute Academy learn everything from the Ute language to geometry, science and social studies. The fourth-grade curriculum will build on subjects already in place, Peck said. Students will do more reading, be assigned larger research projects, learn geometric theorems and do more writing that builds on what they're already learning.

"It's just taking what they've already learned to a much, much greater degree," Peck said.

She said some people have characterized the curriculum as "too advanced," but she insisted that the children can, and do, learn it.

Santistevan said the education department is looking for a teacher to fill the class next year. If other classes are added down the road, a new building will have to be constructed, he said. The school has space to accommodate the new class, he said.

The council is expected to pass a final resolution on the new grade June 10, Santistevan said. About 100 students attend the academy.

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


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