Cherokee Language Teacher Program returns to NSU
A Northeastern State University student walks by a statue of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, at the university’s Tahlequah campus. The university is again providing NSU students the chance to earn an education degree with a Cherokee language-teaching emphasis. STACIE GUTHRIE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After beginning as a pilot program in 2014-15, the Cherokee Language Teacher Program is back to provide five Northeastern State University students the chance to earn an education degree with a Cherokee language-teaching emphasis.
“We’ve been kind of modifying some of the steps that we’re taking, how the program operates. We didn’t have a coordinator at the time for this scholarship, so that’s why we hired Lawrence (Panther),” Cherokee Language Department Director Roy Boney said. “Lawrence is a first-language speaker of Cherokee. He recently graduated from NSU from the Cherokee Degree Program, and so he knows the whole process of going through college, and he can help them with that aspect and the language, too.”
According to a 2014 Cherokee Phoenix story, the Cherokee Language Teacher Program began after the Cherokee Nation cut annual funding from $100,000 to $25,000 to the Cherokee Language Program at NSU. The cut eventually led to the end of the Cherokee Language Program, which had existed for nine academic years.
Dr. Neil Morton, CN Education Services senior advisor, said the teacher program would supply the certified teachers that tribal officials had hoped to gain from the original program, according to the story.
“So we’re proposing a program where we would pre-identify five students that have some level of proficiency in Cherokee and who are hopefully residing in a Cherokee community where they’re exposed to the culture and life ways of Cherokee people,” Morton said in the 2014 story. “And those five would be immersed in our immersion program.”
The Cherokee Language Teacher Program’s goal is to certify students so they can teach in schools and give them the skills to teach in Cherokee.
“The scholarship is given to applicants that are majoring in early childhood education, elementary education and Cherokee education at NSU,” Boney said.
The scholarship will be offered at a staggered rate and covers tuition costs, books, fees and room and board, Boney added.
“So as one student will go through the program and graduate we can bring in more and it kind of keeps this rotation going,” he said. “It’s open to all Cherokee Nation citizens, and it’s only at NSU at the moment. It covers all books, fees, tuition and room and board. If a student doesn’t live on campus they get a stipend for the equivalent of one semester’s worth of room and board at NSU.”
Boney said the scholarship is only offered to five students because officials want a “strong” cohort.
“It’s geared for five people total, and the reason why it’s so small is because getting that group together, a really strong cohort...they can really learn together,” he said. “Lawrence is the one that coordinates their schedules, and he will also be teaching them the language and coordinating their time with other speakers.”
Panther, the program’s coordinator, said working with five students would be “easier” because everyone’s schedules are different.
“It’s a lot easier with just five students. According to the schedules, it’s really zigzag and all that stuff. It’s kind of hard really to get them all together all at once,” he said. “We’ll be able to meet once a week, at least in the evenings.”
Boney said aside from participating in normal coursework, students would work with teachers at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School and Cherokee Language Department employees.
“They’ll be at the immersion school kind of acting in a way as interns, and they’ll be working with the staff that we have here like with the translators and the other speakers in our department,” he said.
As students advance, Boney said a group of Cherokee speakers would assess the students’ abilities to determine if they are making the necessary progress to stay in the program.
“We are really looking for people that really will be committed to the whole program and finish at the end with the idea to have them be certified teachers and to actually have some Cherokee language knowledge they can teach in the classroom, too,” he said.
According to the program overview, students would be required to work at the immersion school or at one of the tribe’s cooperative satellite programs in public schools within the CN jurisdiction upon graduation.
“It’s modeled after the (Cherokee Nation) Directed Studies (Scholarship) Program, so the students would work for the same number of years they were funded,” Boney said.
Panther said he plans to visit area schools to recruit future students for the program. “I’ll be visiting some schools that have Cherokee language programs. It’s going to kind of work out in the next couple of years. I’ll be able to, hopefully, recruit them.”
Boney said it’s important to have more certified teachers teaching Cherokee.
“There’s a lot of demand from various communities to have Cherokee language teachers, and there’s not many that have the skills to do that,” he said. “As it goes, the teachers that we have now that can speak Cherokee that are certified. In a few years they’re going to be retiring so we need to have people coming up behind them that can fill those positions.”
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.Cherokee Language Teacher Program Qualifications
• Must demonstrate some conversational Cherokee language:
o Ability to have a basic conversation in Cherokee
o Fluency will be increased by program participation
• Must have a strong desire to speak Cherokee and a passion for the language.
• Must have a strong desire to teach and work with children.
• Must be a Cherokee Nation citizen.
• Must be a student at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
• Must enroll as a full-time student (12 credit hours minimum).
• Must reside in the Cherokee Nation’s contiguous 14-county jurisdictional area. Proof of residency is required.