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Kids get language immersion at Arapaho school

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.casperstartribune.net/articles/2009/05/10/news/wyoming/972bb3115 a49891b872575b10020fc7a.txt Kids get language immersion at Arapaho school By MARTIN
    Message 1 of 1 , May 17, 2009

      Kids get language immersion at Arapaho school

      The Riverton Ranger

      Sunday, May 10, 2009 2:04 AM MDT

      RIVERTON -- Swinging around on a piece of playground equipment at Riverton
      City Park, 6-year-old Cheyleigh Moss answered an important question from
      Teresa Hughes.

      "Koo heesnee?" asked Hughes, a teacher at the Northern Arapaho Language
      Immersion School.

      "Heesneenoo," the school pupil responded in the tribe's traditional

      For the uninitiated, the exchange was unrecognizable. But between student
      and teacher, it was a simple conversation in Arapaho: "Are you hungry?"
      followed by "I'm hungry."

      The 20 or so pupils of the school that allows only Arapaho language spoken
      within its walls in Arapahoe took a recent trip to the park to play and

      "It's part of the immersion. We're bringing them to the outside to expose
      them to the trees and the grass," Hughes said.

      "We teach them seasonally how things occur," she said. "What we're teaching
      them right now is about the meadowlark," an important bird for the tribe.

      The warmer weather emerging is a sign of rejuvenation in nature that
      translates to language, said Wayne C'Hair, lead teacher at the school.

      "It's a new beginning," C'Hair said. "It's a new year for the Arapaho
      people and we try to teach that in the classroom."

      A good example is the Arapaho word for the month: "Benii'owuusiis."
      Translated: "We have conquered winter."

      The teachers took their preschool through first-grade pupils to Jaycee Park
      in Riverton for more exposure to nature and the tribe's language outside of
      the classroom environment.

      Hughes recalled the children's interaction with Arapaho language on the
      playground, "telling each other 'I want a drink of water' or 'I need to go
      to the bathroom,' things they know."

      For the adults, hearing the language from children's mouths is like the
      seeing nature blossom back to life after a harsh winter.

      "I haven't heard Arapaho spoken by kids in 35 years," C'Hair said. "It's
      coming back."

      The Northern Arapaho Tribe is facing a crisis because of a lack of its
      members learning how to speak the native language. But with the language
      school opening last October near Arapahoe, the tribe hopes to turn the

      Laura Shakespeare, a tribal elder who helps at the school, said 243 of the
      tribe's roughly 8,000 members can speak the language.

      "I never talk English to them," Shakespeare, 73, said about the children.

      Then in the language she and others are desperately trying to preserve,
      Shakespeare said, "I always tell them don't speak English, talk Arapaho."

      It is almost the exact opposite of what happened to Shakespeare when she
      was the same age as the children on the playground.

      "I didn't know how to speak English until I went to St. Stephens School" at
      age 5, she said. "I started there as a beginner, learning English at St.
      Stephens School. I didn't know how to speak English. I only knew Arapaho."

      From her wheelchair parked under the shade of trees, Shakespeare can watch
      the children at play and hear their Arapaho phrases.

      Hohootno trees.

      Wooxuu'no grass.

      Nii'eihiiho' birds.

      "My ancestors and me, we know how powerful these little ones are,"
      Shakespeare said. "They'll be ones to carry the language forward so the
      language will never die out."

      Hughes smiled when she talked about the children reciting prayers, singing
      songs and using sign language -- all in Arapaho.

      A few months ago during nap time at the school, Hughes heard talking in a
      soft voice from one of the children. The young girl was singing an Arapaho
      Christmas song in her sleep.

      "We want them to think and dream in Arapaho and it's already happening,"
      Hughes said.

      Preschool teacher Mary Headley also witnesses each day the children
      increasingly absorb the language.

      "I see them speaking to each other now," Headley said. "It might be short
      but it's a start. It's a hope. It's come a long ways to get to this point."
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