Classes will be taught in both English and Spanish or Diné

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FARMINGTON — Kindergartners in the Farmington Municipal School District next school year have the chance to enroll in a dual-language program that will allow them to be fluent in Spanish or Diné by the time they graduate high school.

The Diné class will be taught at Apache Elementary School while Spanish will be taught at McCormick Elementary School.

“This is the start of something that we hope to grow bigger overtime,” Superintendent Gene Schmidt said.

He said the district hopes to expand the programs to other schools. The first year will feature a 20-student kindergarten class at Apache and another 20-student class at McCormick.

People who want to enroll their children in the Diné language class should call Apache Elementary School at 505-599-8602 and ask to speak to Principal Jennifer Bowles, Schmidt said. To get a child on a list for the Spanish language class, parents should call McCormick Elementary School at 505-599-8606 and speak to Principal Lyn White.

The program will start with 45 minutes of instruction each day in either Diné or Spanish. During that time, the students will learn social studies. Each year, that time will increase, and more subjects will be added. By the time the kindergartners reach fourth grade, half of the day's instruction will be taught in Spanish or Diné, and the other half will be in English.

Students from outside the McCormick and Apache school boundaries can enroll in the classes.

“This program is open to all students, not just Native American students,” said Karen Brown, the director of multicultural education, during a meeting about the Navajo language program at Apache Elementary School on Monday.

Assistant director of Indian education Shawl Iron Moccasin said the key to the students’ success will be parent involvement. The parents will receive handbooks and should speak to their children in Diné or Spanish. Parents who do not speak Diné can take a free evening class once a week at Apache Elementary School.

Schmidt said there are also Spanish language classes available to parents. Schmidt said parents who want to take a conversational language class can call his office at 505-324-9840 to get more information.

Bowles said if parents commit to having their children in the class, the students should remain in the class throughout their years in school.

“That group of students will stay together as they go through school,” she said.

Jessica Smallcanyon and Brandon Chavez attended the parent meeting on Monday to learn about the options for their children.

Smallcanyon said it was interesting to see the school working to highlight Navajo culture and bring back the language. She said that approach is a change, considering that Navajo children have been discouraged from speaking Diné in the past.

Neither Smallcanyon nor her fiancé Chavez speak the language, but Chavez said he has been looking into ways to learn it.

“It feels awkward, and it feels embarrassing not to know your own language,” he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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