Ute Mountain Ute educators are looking to open a charter school in Towaoc.
The school would emphasize a “different” type of learning along with incorporating language and culture into its curriculum, said Tina King-Washington, the K-12 education director for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.
“Our goal is to educate our kids in a little different way, and get our language and culture into our school, where our kids can learn about their own tribe,” King-Washington said.
They hope to open their doors in fall 2021.
Currently, there is a Head Start preschool program on the reservation, but she wants a continuation of this.
Last fall, she sought community support for a school, and supporters have since formed a school board.
They want Ute students to know their culture and history.
“I feel like every day is a day we can lose our culture, we can lose our language,” said Sherell Lang, a fellow with the NACA Inspired School Network, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that supports native communities who want to form their own schools. She recently began her NISN fellowship to support the Towaoc charter school’s creation.
NACA is the Native American Community Academy, a public charter school in Albuquerque.
“And being able to incorporate that in our school and having our kids here every day, learning it, every day hearing the words, the stories, is going to help them be more confident and know who they are, where they come from,” Lang said.
They also hope to incorporate language into their curriculum, passing the Ute language down from elders to the younger generations.
“As with every tribe, our language and culture is dwindling to the point where only our elders speak fluent Ute,” King-Washington said. “And we want our children to be able to understand our elders and converse with them. And to carry on our language so it doesn’t die.”
As an open charter school, the site would be open to students outside of Towaoc as well.
They’re also looking to establish a less traditional style of teaching, with an emphasis on group learning, she said. In particular, they want to partner with the Boettcher Teacher Residency program. Boettcher teachers come from “different walks of life,” King-Washington said, which may be more aligned with what the Ute Mountain Ute charter looks to do.
She pointed to a Silverton charter school she visited that was staffed by Boettcher teachers.
“They have them working in groups,” King-Washington said. “And the teacher’s more a facilitator of what the kids are learning.”
The new school could also reduce travel time for students, some of whom spend over an hour by bus every day.
At a recent board meeting for the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, King-Washington and Lang asked directors to remove Re-1 as an authorizing agent for their charter, in order to cut down on bureaucracy and paperwork, they said, since they already answer to the Colorado League of Charter Schools and NISN.
“We want to just short-stream it, so that we can get on with the business of educating kids,” King-Washington said.
The item was not put to a vote, but board members were favorable of the request overall.
Right now, King-Washington and her team are still gathering community support, and determining logistics. They are applying to be part of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, Lang said, which can assist them with funding.
Their group is also seeking out other funding sources, especially with the help of Ernest House Jr., a leader with the Keystone Policy Center who helped them find partners.
Someday they hope to construct a new building, King-Washington said, but they have to first show prospective lenders that their school is functioning well. Initially, they will most likely operate out of portables, she said.
“So we’re going to have to prove ourselves, and that’s fine, we can do that,” she said.
The first year of the school’s operation, they plan to start out with two grades, and add grades as operations stabilize. Lang said they are still deciding which grades to begin with, but that the community was most concerned about the “transition” years, such as when students go from the Head Start preschool into kindergarten, or from elementary into middle school.
“They felt like those transition times were pretty hard on the kiddos,” Lang said.
King-Washington and Lang emphasize that they want to maintain a good relationship with the Re-1 school district and continue to exchange resources and ideas in supporting their students.
“We just see a need for our own kids to learn their own language and culture, and learn in just a different way,” King-Washington said. “Hopefully it will get them to be leaders and good citizens of tomorrow. That’s my goal.”
There will be an information session about the new school on Aug. 12, Lang said. It will be held in two meetings at the Towaoc Recreation Center, from 12-1 p.m. and from 5-6 p.m.