Alayna Harkreader (left) and Lauren Hummingbird (right) enjoy a coloring assignment in their sixth-grade classroom at the Cherokee Nation Immersion School. The school is home to more than 80 elementary school students who learn all classroom lessons exclusively in the Cherokee language.

Cherokee Nation Adds Sixth Grade and iPads to Bolster Native American Education

ICTMN Staff
9/25/11

Some changes are happening this year at the Cherokee Nation’s Sequoyah Schools. The nation has added the sixth grade to its immersion school and provided iPads to seventh and eighth grade classrooms to expand they way subjects are taught.

For the first time since 1956, students attending the Cherokee Nation’s Immersion School—part of Sequoyah’s school district—can complete 12 consecutive years in the same school system.

The immersion style classroom started in 2001 at Cherokee Nation Head Start. Immersion means that all classes are conducted in Cherokee; no English is spoken or written during class time. This is an important way for Native American students to retain their culture and language.

Jessica and Nick Harkreader chose to enroll their daughter and son in the immersion school because they are afraid of losing the Cherokee language.

“Unfortunately, like the majority of Cherokee families, my generation didn’t learn to speak the language,” said Jessica in a press release. “We know that the Cherokee language is in danger of becoming extinct and as a family, we made it a priority not to lose it.”

Their daughter Alayna is one of eight students in the newly created sixth grade class at the immersion school. Alayna likes being able to speak Cherokee with her grandmother and friends.

Jamie Hummingbird, whose daughter Lauren is in class with Alayna, grew up speaking Cherokee but has lost it over the years. Having Lauren in the immersion school has given Jamie and his wife, Tonette, a chance at getting their first language back.

“My wife and I are rediscovering our language with our daughter as our teacher,” Jamie said.

Both the girls are really excited that they are able to communicate in Cherokee using iPhones and other Apple products since the Cherokee syllabary was added to the languages the products use. Alayna is currently teaching her grandmother to use the iPhone in Cherokee.

“The absolute most wonderful feeling in the world is when I see my granny and my daughter reading the Cherokee language and discussing the content in Cherokee,” Jessica said. “It brings tears of joy and hope when I see that gap finally bridged. It also tickles me to death when I catch my daughter trying to teach her younger brother how to say or write a Cherokee word.”

And using that technology won’t end for the girls once they graduate from the immersion school. When they continue their education at Sequoyah Schools they’ll still be able to take Cherokee language classes and will have the opportunity to use iPads recently provided to the seventh and eighth grade classrooms.

The iPads were added to the classrooms as part of Sequoyah’s Technology Education Program (STEP), which began in December 2010. By providing technology to students at a young age, they will be better able to compete in post-secondary education and career situations.

“We have given students the opportunity to explore their world and become world wide learners,” said Holly Davis, Sequoyah Schools’ elementary principal, in a release.

“Technology is everywhere and its here to stay,” said Justin Workman, Sequoyah Schools’ system administrator. “The more people learn and adapt to a technological lifestyle, the better off they'll be.”

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