Navajo Prep celebrates 30th anniversary with reflection and outlook

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Preparatory School was lauded by school leadership, founders, students and alumni on May 12 for its history and its track record of innovation throughout its 30 years as the sole Navajo Nation-sanctioned college-preparatory school.

The school was established in 1991 by the Navajo Nation Council's Education Committee. Its 83-acre campus was bought in 1995 by the tribe from the United Methodist Church.

Even though the site changed names from Navajo Methodist Mission, Navajo Mission Academy and Navajo Academy since its founding by the church, the students and alumni helped to solidify its academic reputation.

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"This is such a great place to start," singer and former Miss Indian World Kansas K. Begaye said.

She graduated from the school in 2005.

Betty Ojaye, former head of school, talks about the history of Navajo Preparatory School at the celebration for the school's 30th anniversary on May 12 in Farmington.

"I know there are a lot of really great people who have come through Navajo Prep, have graduated and have done some amazing things. I'm proud to be part of this alumni," she said.

Joining the Navajo Prep family was one reason current student Watson Whitford came from Montana.

"It makes me feel good that we have support here at Navajo Prep. We have support from all of you," Whitford said at the celebration held on campus.

Betty Ojaye led Navajo Prep for 27 years before retiring in 2018.

Among those Ojaye recognized was Delegate Daniel E. Tso, who sponsored the tribal council bill in 1991 that created the charter to establish Navajo Prep and to appoint a task force to negotiate with the church to continue using the property for a school.

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Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez visits with students at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington on May 12 during the event to celebrate the school's 30th anniversary.

"That was the beginning. That was the powerful resolution that first came out," Ojaye said.

Tso listened to Ojaye's remarks from the audience and later received a blanket designed for the 30th anniversary.

During George Arthur's terms on the tribal council, he sponsored several bills that provided funding to Navajo Prep.

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Arthur said his connection to the campus started when his parents brought him to Navajo Methodist Mission in 1952.

He pointed out the building that housed classrooms for the high school and the gymnasium, where basketball games were held, including several victories over Farmington High School.

"That was the beginning of my relationship on these grounds," said Arthur, who graduated in 1964.

It was Sept. 10, 1991 when Navajo Prep held its first student orientation.

Ojaye proudly announced the date while reading a portion of the letter that then tribal President Peterson Zah wrote to students, parents and staff to mark the occasion.

Jared Brown sings an honor song during the event on May 12 to mark the 30th anniversary of Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington.

She read the following from Zah's letter, "you are to be commended for your support of the newly chartered Navajo Preparatory School, which offers an educational program for Navajo gifted and talented students."

Throughout the three decades, the school has been dedicated to sustaining Navajo language and culture while increasing its curriculum to include the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Bringing the IB program received huge support from Delegate Edison Wauneka, who served on the board of trustees for years, said Shawna Becenti, the head of school.

Daniel E. Tso, George Arthur and Edison Wauneka, left to right, helped establish and develop Navajo Preparatory School throughout its 30 years. They were among the school's founders honored on May 12 in Farmington.

The school is continuing to work towards expanding the IB program to include the Middle Years Programme to freshmen and sophomores.

"That's where the direction of education has been wanting to go – inquiry-based instruction," Becenti said.

The school is preparing to start construction on a new residential home in fiscal year 2023 using funding approved by New Mexico state officials.

"We do need a new dorm. There's a lot of students that want to come to this institution and we're so excited about that," Board of Trustees member Sherrick Roanhorse said.

School leaders also want to renovate a 36,000-square-foot building to house the arts department and the Diné Bizaad Institute.

"We want to be on the forefront for our language and culture," Becenti said, then added that money is needed to reach that goal.

Shawna Becenti, the head of school at Navajo Preparatory School, welcomes audience members to the event to celebrate the school's 30th anniversary on May 12 in Farmington.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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