IGNACIO – Southern Ute Tribal Council members prioritized Ute language education in the tribe’s partnership with the Ignacio School District, but enrollment and staffing challenge the program’s growth.
Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, Southern Ute Indian Tribe representatives, school district staff and community members met to discuss truancy, school district achievement and student assessments at the Indian Policies and Procedures meeting Monday.
One educational goal rose above the rest during the meeting: the school district’s Ute language education program.
“The Ute people have lived in this area for time immemorial and preserving the tribe’s history and culture was, is and will remain a priority,” wrote Lindsay Box, the tribe’s spokewoman. “Preserving our culture means preserving our language.”
The Southern Ute Department of Education and the Ignacio School District have partnered for years to provide the Ute language to students.
The tribe starts teaching the Ute language at the Southern Ute Montessori School, but then, there is no Ute language programming at the elementary school.
“Our goal, and we’ve been talking about this a few years now, (is) that we need to start something at the elementary school,” said Rocco Fuschetto, Ignacio superintendent.
Middle school students can take a Native American class that includes Ute language lessons, and Ignacio High School offers a Native American studies class and a Ute language class.
However this year, the high school did not see enough class enrollment to schedule the full-year Ute language class.
“We don’t have the numbers. You want to have a class with one or two students?” Fuschetto said. “It’s not cost-effective for us or for the tribe.”
When enrollment is high enough, the school offers the class every other year, and students can do independent study classes to fill in the gap years, he said.
“Tribal staff are currently meeting with the school’s administration to problem solve the low enrollment in a Ute language class, and we are confident we will find a solution,” Box wrote.
Another challenge, Fuschetto said, is inconsistent staffing, which causes difficulties both for the students and the administration.
At first, the school district could not find state-certified teachers who were qualified to teach the Ute language classes. Around 2010, they petitioned the Colorado Department of Education for a different arrangement.
Now, the tribal council certifies and pays for the teachers to teach Ute in the school district.
With consistent staffing and higher student enrollment, the district was ready and willing to put elementary programs in place, Fuschetto said.
The tribe has one member with a doctorate in linguistics who has been training other teachers to help at the high school, and the schools will have a teacher next year, said Latitia Taylor, director of the tribe’s education department, at the meeting.
“There’s always a way to help the students out – just ask,” said Christine Sage, tribal council chairwoman.
“If they don’t keep at it, keep at them. This is our future; we need to think of them.”