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New Kituwah Academy finds its home
By JAMI CUSTER
Tues, Oct 19, 2010
CHEROKEE, N.C. – The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ language immersion school celebrated its one-year anniversary in September at its permanent location, a former resort, after spending the previous four years moving from building to building.
Through an act of the EBCI council, the New Kituwah Academy was relocated to the former resort, and on Sept. 8, 2009, the refurbished building opened as the tribe’s immersion school.
Renissa Walker, Kituwah Preservation and Education Program manager, said the former resort had been vacant for some time before the school relocated to it. But she said she and other officials knew the resort was the building they needed because of its location and surroundings.
“We saw the building, and I said ‘this is it. This is our home, and this is where we need to be,’” Walker said.
Now that school officials have their permanent location, they can concentrate on teaching the Cherokee language to Eastern Band youth.
The EBCI immersion program has two components. The first is early childhood education beginning with newborns to 5-year-olds. The school teaches children that young because it’s licensed through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Childhood Health Division and meets the same criteria as other state childcare facilities.
The second component is elementary education, with teaching positions modeled after Cherokee Central Schools and the curriculum meeting the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.
She said the tribe signed an agreement with Cherokee Central in 2009 to allow the school to govern the elementary portion of the immersion program. The agreement initially established a kindergarten class and a first grade. However, the program plans to expand up to the fifth grade. Walker said after the second grade is added, the school will meet with parents of immersion school students to see the level of interest and if they want their children to go beyond the fifth grade.
“We add a grade each year just like Cherokee Nation does. Students are doing similar work to CN students. Learning to read and write in syllabary,” Walker said.
The immersion program has also added after-school tutoring.
“That’s not just the English exposure. It’s a structured program. So for 30 to 40 minutes (after each school day) last year we had English language arts using a highly rated phonics program for our students,” Walker said. “We will have 40 minutes for our kindergarten and first grade and twice a week with pre-K for about 15 minutes…just exposure to the alphabet so they will be ready for kindergarten.”
With the permanent location, the school has benefited other ways besides not having to move, Walker said. She said officials have areas for consortium meetings, where the CN and EBCI’s fluent Cherokee speakers meet and discuss new Cherokee words.
“Now that we have our own place, we have trainings for our teachers. We had an outdoor training this summer. We had three TPR (a second-language learning tool) classes there since we opened up, and we have a place to offer language classes for our parents three times a week,” she said.
The school also offers evening Cherokee classes as well as online classes in its computer lab.
“We have started to do I-chats with the Cherokee Nation kids now that we have a place with Internet service,” Walker said. “We are just able to provide more training because we have our own facility. We are not having to ask people for a place to have a meeting. Everything is right there.”