Tlingit language learning to expand

Goldbelt secures $3.7 million in education grants

Posted: Sunday, October 04, 2009

Juneau students will have expanded opportunities to learn Tlingit language and culture over the next four years thanks to several grants the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation obtained.

The foundation recently secured $3.7 million in four language and cultural education grants to help increase Tlingit language and cultural education efforts in Juneau students.

One of the four grants, which are good for one to four years, was obtained in partnership with the Juneau School District. The "Wooch.een: Together We Can" grant applies specifically to the expansion of the Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy program, or TCLL, implemented at Gastineau and Harborview Elementary schools.

Wooch.een is a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Alaska Native Education program. That grant will increase language instruction availability and "support the involvement of traditional knowledge bearers, cultural specialists and elders in the classrooms with the students," according to a Goldbelt press release.

It also will enable a project team to offer teachers and parents monthly workshops, the first of which is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 10 at Harborview Elementary School.

Barbara Cadiente-Nelson, project director of the Native education programs in the school district, said the seminars will help other elementary teachers become culturally responsive in their curriculum.

Since the program's inception, Cadiente-Nelson said she has seen a better sense of place, pride and connection with families participating actively in children's education.

"The power of the program is that it brings all of the educators of that child to the table - the classroom teacher, the family, the Native community, elders and other tradition bearers," she said.

In the release, Sierra Ezre, a fifth-grader in Harborview teacher Cristina Dick's class said, "If it weren't for the TCLL program, I wouldn't know any Tlingit language or history and culture. It means a lot to me to learn about the Tlingit culture during school."

Dionne Cadiente-Laiti, Goldbelt Heritage Institute manager, said the program is "the difference between night and day for our children."

She has a son in second grade and said she makes a point of driving him to Harborview. "Our hope is that he will grow up knowing his language and his culture," she said.

Traditional knowledge bearer and program participant David Katzeek said in the release that he would like to see "all students unwrap the gifts of knowledge they have within each of them."

Goldbelt obtained three other grants as part of the $3.7 million package it announced:

• A three-year grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Administration for Native Americans that will help expand language curriculum available to schools;

• a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Indian Education, and

• a one-year youth activities grant from the city.

All are bound for Tlingit education programs.

• Reporter Mary Catharine Martin can be contacted at 523-2276.

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