SHIPROCK — After naming his clans in the Navajo language, Curtis Canuto, a third-grader at Dream Diné Charter School, shared a lesson he learned this year.

"We learned about the constellations," the 9-year old said.

Canuto was among 24 students who celebrated their academic accomplishments during a year-end program on Friday at the Shiprock Chapter house.

The Shiprock-based school opened its doors in 2014. Navajo culture, language and history are the foundation of its curriculum.

Norlisha Singer, Canuto's mother, said she was a "happy parent" watching her son speak Navajo.

"It was a better school to have him learn Navajo tradition and the language," Singer said.


Head Administrator Tina Deschenie said the opening of the school was a dream for community members.

"A dream doesn't happen unless people put forward their foot, and that's what has happened," Deschenie said.

The school continues to grow — it will add fourth-grade classes in the fall — and this year's class of third-graders was the first to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, she said.

The exam mandated by the New Mexico Public Education Department tests third- through 11th-grade students in math and English.

Results from the tests have not been released, but the fact that students took them for the first time was another step in the school's progress, she said.


"I can wholeheartedly say that we have really enjoyed working with the students," Deschenie said.

During the ceremony, each student introduced herself or himself in the Navajo language, including naming their four clans.

Girls in kindergarten and the first grade wore traditional Navajo dresses with their hair tied into a tsiiyéél, a traditional hair bun.

Students shared some lessons they learned throughout the school year, including the alphabet, writing, punctuation and animal names.

The second- and third-grade students talked about what they want to be when they grow up.


Consuela Benally decided to enroll her daughters, Kierra Todachinnie, 7, and Jade Benally, 6, because of the curriculum and inclusion of Navajo language and culture.

"It brought me to tears to see my children speaking in Navajo," Benally said.

She added that teachers also focus on issues taking place in the community.

Todachinnie has been attending the school since 2014 and will end the second grade on Wednesday.

"I feel happy about it because I like to learn stuff," she said about her promotion to the third grade.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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