Kirtland Navajo language classes overflowing

By Alysa Landry
Kirtland, New Mexico (AP) April 2010

A waiting list at least eight students long exists at Ruth N. Bond Elementary School.

The students, most of them Navajo, are in excess of the 150 already enrolled in Navajo bilingual classes. Two teachers, one certified with the state of New Mexico and the other certified with the tribe, are scrambling to keep up with the demand.

“Really the only way we can enroll more students is if other students transfer out of the school or their parents pull them out of bilingual classes,” said Veta Glover, who is certified by the state to teach bilingual education. “I hate to turn kids away, especially when they work well in the classes or when the parents really want them in here.”

Rose Mason, the other teacher, is certified first by the tribe. Her certification then was recognized by the state.

Between the two teachers, most students in kindergarten through third grade are served, Mason said. Enrollment is capped at 22 students per class.

Of the 18 schools in the Central Consolidated School District, which covers 3,000 square miles and boasts a 90 percent Navajo student population, Ruth N. Bond is the only one with a waiting list for the class, said Herbert Frazier, the district’s director of bilingual education.

“We seem to have it covered in the other schools,” Frazier said. “We are still working on solutions and we have yet to come to a conclusion on how to solve it at Ruth N. Bond.”

The solution may be as easy as filing the correct paperwork, said Carol Thomas, an assistant in the Dine Education Center in Window Rock, Ariz. The tribe offers an oral test to teachers already in the classrooms, Thomas said. The Native American Language Culture Certification allows teachers certified by the tribe to receive three-year lateral certificates with the state.

Any Ruth N. Bond teacher with Navajo language skills could take the test and qualify for bilingual certification, Thomas said.

“We have an agreement with the state,” she said. “If they pass the oral test, we send the information to the Public Education Department for the license.”

The Public Education Department grants licenses in a special category, department spokeswoman Beverly Friedman said. Licensees must apply for certification, pass background and fingerprint tests and pay a fee.

Meanwhile, teachers and parents are pushing for a quick solution. Every passing day means language lessons lost for the students still on the waiting list.

“They will get far behind,” Glover said. “From kindergarten through third grade, we learn everything: how to introduce yourself, the colors, the numbers, clans, the culture. If Navajo isn’t being spoken at home, they need to be here to be exposed to it. That’s what I really want for them.”