Cherokee Immersion School grows over two decades | Education
TAHLEQUAH – A Cherokee language preservation program focused on kindergarten through eighth graders has grown over the past 20 years from 26 students to more than 100 students.
At the tribe’s thriving Cherokee Immersion School in Tahlequah, the curriculum conforms to the grade level standards of the Oklahoma Department of Education, but instruction is conducted exclusively in the Cherokee language, both written and spoken. . The Sequoyah syllabary is used for all printed materials.
“I’ve said before that our language and culture remain our most important link to the past,” said Principal Chef Chuck Hoskin Jr. “They unite us today and play a crucial role in ensuring we remain a distinct people for generations to come.”
The school, called ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ (Tsalagi Tsunadeloquasdi), opened in 2001 and received its charter in 2010, making it Oklahoma’s first charter school for Cherokee language immersion. It continues to train Cherokee second language speakers and will soon be moving to the Durbin Feeling Language Center, which when completed will house all language programs under one roof.
Since passing the Durbin Feeling Language Act of 2019, the Cherokee Nation has stepped up efforts to preserve and teach its language, which is spoken fluently by approximately 2,000 tribal citizens. The tribe is investing $40 million to replace or upgrade its Head Start centers. It also plans a second-language immersion school in Adair County beginning in the 2022-23 school year.
“I think this is going to increase the number of speakers we have for years to come,” CN’s language department executive director Howard Paden said Oct. 29 when the tribe completed its acquisition of Greasy. School for its second immersion school. “We are losing speakers at an alarming rate and not replacing them fast enough. So, strategically, we planned to expand immersion schools to communities, especially to the population with a high density of Cherokee speakers, what we call Cherokee language hotspots.
CN officials worked with the Dahlonegah Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Jeff Limore to acquire the site. Dahlonegah runs the Greasy School but will cease operations at the end of the semester.
“We are thrilled to acquire this 13-acre property to serve as our tribe’s second Cherokee Immersion language school,” Hoskin said. “The new Cherokee Language Immersion School site will help teach children in Adair County to read, write and speak our language so that more young people will continue our culture and traditions.”
In late 2021, First Lady Jill Biden, along with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, visited the Cherokee Immersion School to see how the tribe is successfully making historic investments in the preservation and perpetuation of the Cherokee language. Dr. Biden is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College.
“I think the way she interacted with our kids when we got into the third-grade class, she was really in her teacher mode,” Hoskin said. “I think it relates to her, and I think her comments that we’re learning the language here in an immersive environment really stuck with me because she gets it. She understands that we are going to save this language. It is not enough to have a class here or there. We need to immerse students in the language.