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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


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Pumped up about Puente


School BellIn one classroom, students are speaking in Spanish. In the classrooms on the other side of the office, students talk to their teachers in Navajo. In yet a third classroom, the students speak English.

The sounds of the children's voices blend together in the hallway of this wing of Sinagua High School, where Puente de Hozho Bilingual Magnet School is located.

The school is at the center of a controversial move to Weitzel Elementary School next year. The FUSD governing board voted Feb. 24 to move the school from SHS to Weitzel and move current Weitzel students into four other elementary schools: Thomas, Sechrist, Killip and Cromer (for Gray Mountain students only).

Current Weitzel students in kindergarten through second grade have the opportunity to join the Puente de Hozho program if there is space available next year by having priority over other students on the waiting list for the school.

Puente de Hozho is a bilingual program that teaches in dual languages. There are two tracks, a Navajo/English track and a Spanish/English track.

The Navajo/English track is taught as an immersion program and the Spanish/English track is taught as a 50/50 program.

In the immersion program, the students start out being taught predominantly in Navajo -- about 90 percent of the time, then each year they are taught more and more in English. By fourth grade they will be taught 50/50 Navajo and English and continue on in that fashion.

In the 50/50 program, the class is taught half the day in Spanish and half the day in English. To accomplish this, the students switch classrooms and teachers halfway through the day. Also, in the Spanish/English track, half the students are native Spanish speakers and half are native English speakers.

In the Navajo program, the majority of students have been raised speaking English. Puente de Hozho Director Michael Fillerup said it is difficult to find students whose primary language is Navajo. Fillerup also is the district bilingual education director and the Title VII director.

Next year the school will have a new principal.

Schoolwide there were 179 students enrolled in Puente de Hozho on the 100th day of the school year -- up 69 students from the beginning of the school year.

The growing enrollment, plus the school adding a grade each year, was one of the motivations for finding a new location for the school.

Anticipated enrollment for Puente de Hozho next year is about 300. It could be more if it adds a preschool and a multi-age fourth- through sixth-grade class, Fillerup said.

The school accepts anyone, Fillerup said, but the program might not be for everyone.

It is a magnet school, so students attend it because their parents choose it for their child because they want their child to learn a second language, Fillerup said.

The school does offer special education services to students. There may be some students, however, who have special education needs that are better served in a traditional school, Fillerup said.

"If someone cannot speak or cannot hear -- and sign language is not one of the languages we teach -- it may not be in the best interest of the child" to be in the program, Fillerup said.

Puente de Hozho special education teacher Abe Mendoza said he works with the parents, teacher and child to figure out what is best for the child.

They have a child in the Navajo program who uses Mendoza's services, and the child seems to respond well to learning in Navajo, Fillerup said.

This is why they evaluate each situation to determine if it can work with the program, Fillerup said.

People who are interested in having their children in the Puente de Hozho program fill out an application and are then put on a waiting list.

Spots are filled in the classes based first on meeting the 50/50 ratio of Spanish speakers in the Spanish/English track, if they are fluent in Navajo for the Navajo/English track, then preference is given to siblings who are already in the program, and then it is first-come, first-served, Fillerup said.

Next year, however, it will be done differently because the current Weitzel students will have priority over students on the waiting list, he said.

When students join the program, parents need to sign a waiver for their students to attend. The waiver is for Proposition 203, the English-only initiative voters passed in 2000.

There are three kinds of waivers: if the student is already a native English speaker, if the non-English speaker is at least 10 years old and if the student does not speak English and has been in an English-only program for 30 calendar days and the child would best be served in a bilingual program, Fillerup said.

For more information about the Puente de Hozho program, call Fillerup at (928) 527-5583

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