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Public Health New Mexico

Zuni College Gets State Funds For Community-Based Language Education

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Hannah Colton / KUNM
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Bilingual instructor Reynelle Lowsayatee explains aspects of an updated Zuni language curriculum to educators at A:shiwi College & Career Readiness Center in mid-November, 2019.

Across New Mexico, public schools fail to provide bilingual instruction that’s appropriate for Native American students. Educators at a tribal education center in the Pueblo of Zuni have recieved a state grant to teach Zuni language in a way they say is more connected to their culture.  

Bilingual instructor Reynelle Lowsayatee spent two decades teaching at the Zuni Public School District. She’s now the Director of Applied Indigenous Studies at A:shiwi College and Career Readiness Center, and said she’s working on a Zuni curriculum alongside other bilingual educators who left the district in recent years.

“We really want true Zuni thought, true ancestral knowledge that our children deserve to be taught," Lowsayatee said. "So that was a huge reason we went after this grant money.”

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Credit Hannah Colton / KUNM
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Lowsayatee explains a Zuni language curriculum that incorporates work by local artist Edward Lewis.

The college can offer all-ages community lessons that wouldn’t be allowed in the public schools, Lowsayatee said. "We don’t have to worry about church-and-state rules, or who’s going to get after us if we’re teaching prayer," she said. "It’s a safe place, and any age could come. You could be 40-years-old and not know your language, or you could be 7-years-old and be fluent in your language. So really having an intergenerational connection."

The grant from the New Mexico Public Education Department, totalling $400,000 dollars over four years, will be used to develop new ways to gauge fluency, to buy materials, and to bring teachers in for trainings.

The updated curriculum will also go out to Gallup-McKinley County Schools, Ramah Navajo schools, Albuquerque Public Schools, the Santa Fe Indian School, and other districts and charter schools that teach Zuni students.

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