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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Farmington Students Pay Visit To Shiprock Pinnacle
by Alysa Landry - The (Farmington, NM) Daily Times

SHIPROCK — Sandra Cheebenally made tracks last month when she took one of Farmington Municipal School District's 46-passenger, 40-foot school buses on one of the most notable and treacherous roads in the county.

Cheebenally, or Cheesa, as her young passengers call her, was the driver for a Project Venture trip Nov. 21, designed to expose Farmington students to the culture and folklore of the Navajo Nation. The destination: Shiprock pinnacle.

The drive proved to be one of the most difficult and challenging of her 12-year career, Cheebenally said.

"A couple of humps we came across, and I thought we might have high-centered it," she said. "I kept thinking, If we get this bus stuck, we're in big trouble.'"

Cheebenally took the two-mile journey slowly, telling the students it was an adventure. The trip fit into Project Venture's goals, co-coordinator Tyson Snyder said.

The extracurricular, federally-funded program, which lasts the entire school year, is open to any student at Tibbetts and Heights middle schools and Farmington High School. The program's goal is to help students build self-esteem, self-sufficiency and other skills they will use later in life, Snyder said.

"We offer skill-building, leadership, experiential education," he said. "A lot is based on outdoor adventure activities. We do rappelling, camping at Navajo Lake and, of course, the trip to Shiprock. It's about letting them experience things they otherwise may not be able to."

About 30 students participated in the drive to the Shiprock pinnacle.

"The purpose of going out there was, obviously, it was an outdoor experience," Snyder said. "It gave students from Farmington a good idea of the community and our neighboring cultures."

Students hiked around the rock, met a Navajo storyteller and shared a meal of traditional food.

"I learned that Shiprock was the core of a huge volcano way back a long time ago," said 13-year-old Jerrett Curtis, a seventh-grade student who participated in the trip. "Also, there is a lot of Navajo mythology about it. That was cool."

Students also celebrated their arrival at the rock, an event Cheebenally had doubts would occur.

"We were referring to it as an adventure," she said. "I was telling the kids that I was a dream maker, and I would make an effort to get them as close to the rock as possible, but I myself couldn't believe we drove all the way out there."

Cheebenally parked the bus in the shadow of the rock, having driven all the way to the end of the dusty and precarious road.

"The kids were really overjoyed by the fact that we got there," she said. "We had to wiggle through the winding roads, and the clearance on the bottom of the bus is really low. We actually made it to the base of the rock, and it was unbelievable."

Despite Farmington's proximity to Shiprock, few students have traveled to the rock formation.

"I've never been to Shiprock," said 11-year-old Cassandra Crowell, a sixth-grade student at Heights. "It was so big, but when you're far away, it looks so small. I learned a lot that I didn't know. I just thought it was a rock that looked like a ship."

Despite the success of the entire event, Cheebenally said the best part was the drive.

"I kept thinking What are we doing out here with a bus,'" she said. "We went where no bus has gone before."

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