Immersion students see variety of experiences

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
04/19/2011 07:01 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Tsa-ha-ni Drowningbear, left, portraying “Rabbit,” speaks with Gwe-ti Harkreader, portraying “Cricket,” in “Why the Opossum’s Tail is Bare” April 4 at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair in Norman, Okla. Drowningbear and Harkreader were part of the Cherokee Nation Immersion School’s fifth grade class that attended the fair. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The animals (Cherokee Nation Immersion School’s fifth graders) pretend to laugh at the “Opossum,” portrayed by Tsit-luk Grayson, because the opossum’s tail is bare underneath the red cover, but possum does not know it. The scene is part of the story “Why the Opossum’s Tail is Bare,” which the class presented April 4 at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair in Norman, Okla. CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Wa-li-si Bird, portraying “Bear,” speaks during the production of “Why the Opossum’s Tail is Bare” April 4 at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair in Norman, Okla. The Cherokee Nation Immersion School’s fifth grade acted out the story and won second place. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
NORMAN, Okla. – Providing different avenues for students to shine and gain new experiences is the mission of Cherokee Nation Immersion School.

One of those avenues was participating in the ninth annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair. The fair, held April 4-5, brought together students from tribes to compete against each other using their respective Native language skills.

CNIS students competed in 10 categories and brought home 12 awards and trophies.

CNIS Supervisor Rebecca Drywater, who has been with the school for four years, said 69 CNIS students and 48 families attended the fair.

“We have wonderful parental support. When the children do something or go somewhere, like on field trips, the parents will go and assist,” she said.

This was the first year the pre-kindergarten class competed. Davis said the pre-kindergarten students gained confidence performing in front of an audience and this year’s competition will get them ready for 2012.

“Going to competition and seeing other kids is good for them. They get to see other kids out there like them. It’s good for them to know there are other languages out there are being revived,” Davis, who is serving her first year as principal, said. “It’s good for them to know they are doing important work right here. Sometimes they think, ‘oh we’re at school,’ but they’re also saving a language.”

Drywater said judges at the fair were looking at how the students utilized their languages.

CNIS students performed plays, sang songs and told stories in Cherokee during the competition while judges from different tribes throughout the state judged them.

Drywater uses her music skills to help prepare students. She said the younger children start out the day with songs, and she has used the music from older pop songs such as “Under the Boardwalk” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” adding Cherokee words for the children to sing.

She said the children enjoyed the songs so much they insisted on singing them in the competition.

The CNIS has 25 teachers and 90 students beginning with a program for 3-year-old students. There is also a pre-kindergarten class of 4 year olds, kindergarten and then first through fifth grades. A sixth grade will be added in the fall, and after next year those sixth grade students will transition to seventh grade at nearby Sequoyah Schools. The school is part of Sequoyah.

Davis said she is excited about the future as the students transition to middle school and high school. She said discussions are being held about providing “different opportunities” for those students when they move to the upper grades.

“They need to know when they are finished here they are not finished. This is not the end of their journey. We want them to go out and teach the next generation,” she said.

Davis does not speak Cherokee, but has worked in public education for 25 years. She said she is learning more of the language from students and staff.

The CN citizen served as an elementary teacher before being principal at Grove for 12 years and then superintendent at Moseley Schools in Delaware County for six years.

She said she welcomed the challenge of working for the CNIS, but admitted because of her background, she was concerned about the students learning English and wanted to test their English knowledge.

“I honestly thought when I first came that we probably should introduce English as early as third grade. I have totally revamped that after being here,” she said. “I was more than comfortable this year introducing English after Christmas to the fifth grade. I think that’s early enough.”

Even with limited English instruction in school, Davis said immersion students are doing “great.” She said studies and research show the students are using twice as much as their brain learning two languages, which she has seen while observing her students.

“Until you actually experience it and see it, you’re not a believer,” she said.

The school also attracts observers, visitors and the media interested in how it operates. However, the older students have grown accustomed to the visitors, Davis said, and carry on with their work.

“We are building tomorrow’s leaders because these kids have no fears when it comes down to it. You can throw a camera in front of them and they will just go with it. They speak their mind.

They are accustomed to being in the limelight and that builds their confidence,” Davis said. “It also makes their performances better because they don’t deal with that nervousness and that fear because they are so used to having visitors.”

Drywater said she was shy in grade school, so she works with the students to help them become more outspoken, confident in themselves and to be leaders.

Ultimately, producing well-rounded, confident leaders to lead the tribe in the future is the school’s main goal.

“We are pioneers. We are establishing something that’s going to be great,” Davis said. “I honestly believe with this program we are going to produce some of the best leaders and the best well-rounded students. It is exciting, and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Cherokee Nation Immersion School classes and individuals who placed at the ninth annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair include:

Large group Song Pre-k – Second Grade
First Place – kindergarten – “Five Little Monkeys”
Second Place – first grade – “To Learn Cherokee”

Large group spoken language Pre-k – Second Grade
Second Place – second grade – “Three Sisters”

Large group song Third Grade – Fifth Grade
First Place – third and fourth Grade – “Quiet-Indian Asleep”

Large group spoken language Third Grade – Fifth Grade
Second Place – fifth grade – “Why the Opossum’s Tail is Bare”

Individual Spoken Third Grade – Fifth Grade
First Place – fifth grader Tsa-ha-ni Drowningbear – “Three Little Pigs”

Small Group Song Third Grade – Fifth Grade
First Place – fifth graders Tsa-ha-ni and Goga Drowningbear – “We Are Family”

Language Master Third Grade – Fifth Grade
(This category is for children who are growing up speaking their Native language in the home.)
First Place – fifth graders Tsa-ha-ni and Goga Drowningbear – “Spearfinger”

Poster Display
First Place – fifth grader – Tsa-ha-ni Drowingbear
Second Place – fifth grader – Goga Drowingbear

Video and Film Screening
First Place – fourth grader Yona Winn and third grader Sahmi Winn – “Scooby Doo”

Special Award Recognition
First Place – pre-kindergarten – “Cherokee Clans”

will-chavez@cherokee.org • (918) 207-3961
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He e ...
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He e ...

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