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Alayna Harkreader & Lauren Hummingbird
Native Brief: TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA - As the doors open at Sequoyah Schools for the fall 2011 school year, some changes are happening. Cherokee Nation's Immersion School, part of Sequoyah's school district, is adding the sixth-grade this year, offering Sequoyah students the first opportunity since 1956 to complete 12 consecutive years of school together through the same school system.
Tsalagi tsunade loquasdi ("Cherokee School" in the Cherokee language) began in 2001 through classrooms at Cherokee Nation's Head Start as a way to educate children in a cultural environment while revitalizing and promoting use of the Cherokee language.
Since opening, the Immersion School has grown, adding higher grades periodically to accommodate students who grew with the program. Eight students are the first to enter the newly formed sixth-grade and will become the first class to graduate from the tribe's Immersion School in the 2011/2012 school year. Those students will then be able to transition to Sequoyah Schools' existing seventh-grade classroom. The school is now home to more than 80 immersion students.
The idea of putting kids into an immersion-style classroom-one where no English is spoken during class time and all lessons are spoken and written in the Cherokee language-can be a bit daunting for parents. But for some, the prospect of losing their family's language legacy and the cultural ties that go with it is a huge motivation.
Fearing their family could soon lose its last fluent Cherokee speaker, Jessica and Nick Harkreader chose to enroll their daughter Alayna, and later their son Gunner, into the school.
"Unfortunately, like the majority of Cherokee families, my generation didn't learn to speak the language," said Jessica.
“We know that the Cherokee language is in danger of becoming extinct and as a family, we made it a priority not to lose it.”
The Harkreaders agree that making the choice to place their children in an immersion school instead of a traditional one was difficult, but as their daughter enters her last year of immersion, they now say it was the best decision they could have made for their children and their family.
Being able to speak Cherokee has created closer community bonds for the Harkreader children and brought generations together. Alayna said she enjoys being able to speak and read Cherokee at church and with her grandmother and friends.
"I speak Cherokee to my friends and my family," said Alayna. "I'm excited about graduating this year and I can't wait to see my friends again."
Alayna's classmate Lauren Hummingbird agreed, saying she, too, is excited to see her new classroom and be with her friends again. Jamie Hummingbird, Lauren's father, grew up in a family that spoke Cherokee but as he got older he became more fluent in English, all but losing the ability to communicate in Cherokee. Having their daughter in the Cherokee Nation's Immersion School has given Jamie and his wife, Tonette, a bridge back to their first language.
"Our experience has been amazing; I can't express what it means to me to have my daughter and now my son in the Immersion School," said Jamie.
“My wife and I are rediscovering our language with our daughter as our teacher.”
posted September 2, 2011 9:10 am edt
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