AZTEC — The Kinteel Residential Campus, located in Aztec across from Fred Cook Stadium along Lydia Rippey Road, has been helping Native American students achieve their academic dreams for more than 50 years.
The dormitory provides living quarters for between 50 and 100 Native American high-school students from 9th to 12th grades who attend Aztec High School during the school year.
Kinteel is a grant-based dormitory, where a board of trustees helps operate the school and awards scholarships to Native students who apply to live there.
"We accept students who are mostly Navajo and others who are at least a quarter Native American, according to their (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood)," campus executive director Scott da Silva said.
Da Silva said a temporary campus was opened in 1954 as part of a trial to see if the project would be successful. Formerly known as Aztec High School Dormitory, the temporary campus initially housed 20 students from 2nd to 12th grades when it opened in September 1954.
The purpose of the campus was to help relieve overcrowded schools on the reservations, according to paperwork provided by da Silva. Designated a border town dormitory, the current campus was opened in September 1964 with 128 students. The population was divided between high school and middle school with 93 students attending Aztec high and 35 attending Koogler Middle School.
Da Silva said the Navajo Nation Department of Din Education oversees the dormitory and the property is designated as federal land, which means the campus is "Indian Country." While it is not on any reservation, the campus must obey the Nation's laws and rules.
Da Silva said a number of parents have told him Aztec High and the dormitory provide the best opportunity for students to succeed in college.
"They have rigorous academics and sports at Aztec high," da Silva said. "I've had parents and students say they wanted to come to a school that is more diverse."
Campus life was strict during the 1970's, according to Johnny Esplain, who now works at the school as a home living assistant. Esplain said he lived in the dormitory from 1974 to 1976 and his focus on sports was hurting his grades.
"It is strict (now) but nothing compared to when I was here," Esplain said. "I had a 2.1 GPA average when I was here, I would be in study hall up to 10 o'clock. The A's got out at 7 (p.m.), the B's got out at 8 (p.m.), the C's got out at 9 (p.m.) and the D's and F's got out at 10 (p.m.). I got out at 10 (p.m.), just in time to go to bed."
As a home living assistant, Esplain said some of his responsibilities include monitoring the behavior of the students and make sure chores are performed on time.
Another difference, Esplain said, is that when he was a student, he witnessed racism.
"There was a lot more racism here than these kids have," Esplain said. "We were getting into a lot of the fights with the Anglo and the Mexicano kids because of the racial differences going on."
With a degree in business administration and a minor in education, Esplain said he would never have gotten to college without the dormitory.
"I would have never got the type of education I received here if I would have (attended school on) the Navajo Nation," Esplain said. "The school and the dorm are the reasons I got a college education, They showed me the direction and discipline that's involved to better yourself in life."
Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.