New Mexico District Eyes Spanish, Navajo Dual-Language Plan

Apr 9, 2018

A school district in New Mexico's Four Corners region wants to have some students fluent in Spanish or Navajo by time they graduate from high school.

Jason Joe, 8, a second grader, works on his Navajo language lesson at Ruth N. Bond Elementary in Kirtland, N.M.
Credit Rebecca Craig/The Daily Times via AP

Kindergartners in the Farmington Municipal School District next school year have the chance to enroll in a dual-language program in Spanish or Diné, the Daily Times in Farmington reports.

The first year will feature a 20-student kindergarten class learning Diné at Apache Elementary School, and another 20-student class learning Spanish at McCormick Elementary School.

The district hopes to expand the programs to other schools, Superintendent Gene Schmidt said.

According to district officials, the program will start with 45 minutes of instruction each day in either Diné or Spanish. During that time, the students will learn social studies.

Each year, that time will increase, and more subjects will be added. By the time the kindergartners reach fourth grade, half of the day's instruction will be taught in Spanish or Diné, and the other half will be in English.

"This program is open to all students, not just Native American students," Karen Brown, director of multicultural education for the district, said during a meeting Monday about the Navajo language program at Apache.

Assistant director of Indian education Shawl Iron Moccasin said the key to the students' success will be parent involvement. The parents will receive handbooks and are asked to speak to their children in Diné or Spanish. Parents who do not speak Diné can take a free evening class once a week at Apache.

Jessica Smallcanyon and her fiancé, Brandon Chavez, attended Monday's parent meeting to learn about the options for their children. Neither speaks Diné, but Chavez said he has been looking into ways to learn it.

"It feels awkward, and it feels embarrassing not to know your own language," he said.