Ariz. - Two boys wear vests cut from Blue Bird flour bags. Follow
them into the Diné College Student Activity Center and
enter a roomful of traditionally dressed elementary students.
to the Diné Language Arts Fair sponsored by the Center for
Diné Teacher Education at Diné College. In different
competitions, students speak Navajo while performing.
schools participated - some traveling from as far away as Page,
Ariz., Blanding, Utah, and Phoenix.
is our eighth annual, so we must be doing something good,"
said Terri Becenti, academic advisor for the Center for Diné
Teacher Education and fair event coordinator.
purpose of the fair is "to perpetuate Navajo language"
and to give children an opportunity to show what they learned, Becenti
importance of language and cultural instruction are the reasons
for the fair, said Ben Barney, director for the Center of Diné
Teacher Education. Even though the fair is annual, it helps teach
Navajo by having fluently speaking students work alongside first-time
and primary levels had the most participating students.
thinks the smaller number of college students may be caused by changes
in attitude toward the language as they grow.
is also the president of the Diné Language Association, which
concentrates on the use and concerns of the language. The association
provides curriculums, materials and lessons in teaching Navajo.
fair gives teachers the opportunity to communicate with other teachers
who are facing the same struggles of teaching Navajo in English-only
systems, said Barney.
of the college's Diné teacher education program also had
the chance to speak publicly in Navajo, either by announcing or
helping to run the fair. Some graduates of the program brought their
own students to the event.
Platero, a first grade teacher with the Navajo Immersion Program
at Window Rock Elementary School, had 12 students participate in
a great idea and an opportunity for children across the reservation,
on and off, to display what they have learned in the Navajo language,"
the difficulty in learning Navajo, it is good to know these students
are learning the language, she said.
James, second grade teacher with the Navajo Immersion Program at
Window Rock Elementary, had 10 students participating. His students
have been practicing since the beginning of the school year.
Language teaches students self-identification and builds self-esteem,
only does James enjoy bringing his students to the fair, he also
likes them to watch the other students and learn from the performances.
lot of our young kids are ashamed of our language and it shouldn't
be that way" said James. "We should let the kids know
that our language has gone through so much and out of respect we
should keep it going."
Yazzie, a student in James' class, sang "Have a beautiful home"
with her classmates. The song explains how the home is blessed while
they eat and sleep and the home is surrounded by love.
learned how to count, name the months of the year, and name the
Four Sacred Mountains in Navajo. "We're trying to win a trophy,"
Some families also were in attendance. Gerald James' daughter, Tashaka
James, a first grader at Canyon de Chelly Elementary in Chinle,
performed with her class.
said he enjoys when Tashaka shares what she learned in Navajo class
with the rest of the family.
was worried about her dress for two weeks, Gerald said. After a
last minute problem, Tashaka was on stage with her classmates performing
"All the butterflies sing."
the fair started, entries were from high school to elementary school
students. Since then, college students may participate.
year's categories were individual poem reading, choral reading,
storytelling and joke telling, solo singing, and group singing.
reader's theater and original works were open to high school and
college students. Students are judged on introduction, eye contact,
voice level, voice clarity, poise, posture, use of props, appearance,
and receive additional points for extra effort.
participating included: San Juan High (Blanding, Utah); Newcomb
High (Newcomb, N.M.); Tse Ho Tso Primary, Tse Ho Tso Intermediate
and Tse Ho Tso Middle (Fort Defiance); Page Middle (Page, Ariz.);
Leupp School, Inc. (Leupp, Ariz.); Window Rock High and Window Rock
Elementary (Fort Defiance); Greasewood Springs Community School
(Greasewood Springs, Ariz.); Navajo Preparatory (Farmington); Atsa
Biyaazh Community School (Shiprock); Rock Point Community School
(Rock Point, Ariz.); Bluff Elementary (Bluff, Utah); Indian Wells
Elementary (Indian Wells, Ariz.); Naschitti Elementary (Naschitti,
N.M.); Newcomb Middle and Newcomb Elementary (Newcomb, N.M.); Puente
de Hozho (Flagstaff); Canyon de Chelly Elementary (Chinle); Desert
View Elementary (Page, Ariz.); ARL Middle (Blanding, Utah); Phoenix
College; and Diné College (Tsaile, Ariz.).