Blau (Turtle Clan), language instructor, works with children
at the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center.
BOCES personnel have been meeting with Mary Blau (Turtle Clan)
and the staff at the Oneida Nation Early Learning Center in
hopes of bringing the Oneida language to all students.
Papa, staff and curriculum specialist at MOBOCES, discusses
the helpfulness of spelling Oneida language phonetically.
Research has long suggested the ideal time to teach a new language
is to 4-year-old students because young learners absorb so much
information at this age.
With that in mind the Oneida Indian Nation Language program
and Madison-Oneida BOCES (MOBOCES) are developing a curriculum and
best practices to ensure all children at the Oneida Indian Nation
Early Learning Center are learning the traditional language. With
one-year of collaboration already behind them the staff at the Verona
school is working on a plan to not only benefit the children, but
include current Oneida language learners, teachers and ELC staff
on how to bring Oneida to all.
"Daycare and language staff are meeting (with MOBOCES) to develop
the best method to share the language with the children," explained
Randy Phillips, Oneida Nation education programs assistant manager.
Randy added the curriculum has shifted this spring to allow more
daycare staff to reinforce the language.
"Children don't care if they make a mistake, unlike adults who
may feel unsure. They don't know they're learning a language. They're
learning new words and phrases just as they would English."
And that is something Edward Rinaldo, director of staff and
curriculum development at MOBOCES, said the staff is building on,
reviewing how best Oneida language can be taught, "
we can help Mary (Blau, Turtle Clan, and other teachers) create
more structures to grow the language, to really foster the language.
And the best way to do that is through teaching and focusing on
"The early learners are the ones picking (the language) up early,"
added Maria Papa, staff development instructional specialist, at
MOBOCES. "They are becoming bilingual whether or not they use it.
They are hearing it, repeating it, and using it throughout the day,
which is beneficial for all.
This is a critical age for them
to be able to retain it. Four-year-olds are very inquisitive. They're
So even if the pronunciation is difficult the little learners
"want to imitate it. So when you put it into a song or rhyme, they
easily get it. At this point they are absorbing it and retaining
it," she said.
Fox, left, and Maria Papa, staff and curriculum specialist
at MOBOCES, observe classes in May.
This is something Mary Blau (Turtle Clan) can attest is working
saying the children, "react to the songs."
"They absorb it somehow," said Mary, who, by the way, is addressed
by early learners as "Shekolih," the Oneida word for hello. For
example, Mary said they work on a song about squirrels with the
children, and the word squirrel stuck with a particular student
who then went on to share it with his sister and his mother.
"The squirrel (tsikwil^:tu'), he climbs the tree. Then there's
this second verse where the caterpillars climb the tree. It was
then when his mom said, 'we have to work on the word for caterpillar.'"
"No one's perfect," said Mary. "The main concept is to understand
each other. Our goal is not to produce fluent speakers, but to have
people able to understand enough to carry a conversation. You can
go through the center, and you hear 'hanyo, hanyo -- come on.' These
are just simple things that they hear all the time."
Already Colleen Wuest, director of early childhood education,
as well as Maria, have been busy observing staff and Oneida Language
students in action with the different grade levels. The group plans
to expand the language's reach by adding phonetic spellings to visuals,
and encouraging more take home materials featuring the language.
Papa, staff and curriculum specialist at MOBOCES, takes a
moment to play hide-in-seek with a student. Maria was counting
in the Oneida language.
Today's combined effort follows decades-long quest by the Oneida
Nation to develop the native language which ranged from 30-minute
language classes, to immersion classes for adults, to intensive
classes for both teachers and learners. Aside from the work by MOBOCES,
students are already enjoying common materials displaying Oneida
language such as coloring books, crayons and a Memory-style card
"The matching memory game featuring animals and other nouns
is great for anyone trying to learn the language," added Randy.
"It's a game, so kids learn despite of themselves."
Other language items available include a grocery list, greeting
cards illustrated by student Chelsea Jocko (Wolf Clan) available
at the Shako:wi Cultural Center, bookmarks, a Thanksgiving Address
booklet to the state-of-the-art Oneida Basic language app available
for free on iTunes.
coloring books to crayons, notes on the wall to daily reminders,
an effort is underway to reach more students in traditional
With all these items available and as more of this generation
learns the better the chances Oneida Language will persevere.
Established in 1995, the Nation's Early Learning Center provides
the highest quality of care and education for children aged six
weeks to 12 years. ELC teachers receive continuous child development
training and have a solid background in early childhood education
and development. The ELC is accredited by the National Association
for the Education of Young Children, the nation's largest organization
of early childhood educators.