Tuba schools meet, start building connections

By Krista Allen

Western Agency Bureau

MOENKOPI, Ariz., August 29, 2013

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F our local school systems met for at least two hours last Thursday in an unprecedented informal education summit.

Greyhills Academy High School (GAHS), Moencopi Day School (MDS), Tuba City Boarding School (TCBS), and Tuba City Unified School District (TCUSD) met at Moenkopi Legacy Inn to form connections that might foster future collaboration and to create an enhanced sense of unity, purpose and community among school teachers in Tónaneesdizí.

GAHS Superintendent Tommy Lewis says it's his hope that the summit will serve as catalyst to encourage even more interaction.

"We're hoping that this is the beginning of how we can work with one another to address issues and concerns that we all face," said Lewis. "So as a team, as partners, maybe we can have a better understanding of how we could possibly work together."

Members of the administration and support staff from each school that attended the summit learned briefly about each of the four school systems.

Lewis showed a PowerPoint presentation on GAHS.

As a P.L. 100-297 grant school, GAHS is under the direction and management of the Bureau of Indian Education.

"Graduation is always the highlight event for the year," said Lewis.

Indeed, Greyhills High presented four honorary high school diplomas this year to four distinguished members of the community based on their work achievement.

Honorary diplomas were presented May 17 to two Coalmine Canyon natives, Dan Akee and Norris Nez, Bessie C. Yazzie from Bodaway-Gap, and Lois G. Yazzie from Cameron.

"We're hoping to keep it as a yearly event," said Lewis of the honorary diplomas.

Lastly, Lewis emphasized six programs that Greyhills High offers including curriculum like A+, Career and Technical Education, Diné Studies and Fine Arts, and Freshmen Academy that prepare students for higher education and give them the support they need to be successful.

Greyhills High has an enrollment of 345.

Unlike the Fighting Knights, TCUSD operates seven school sites including one in Bodaway-Gap and another in Cameron.

TCUSD Superintendent Harold Begay says the school district uses the Center for the Advancement of Indigenous Studies, or simply, Diné philosophy of learning and Hopi Lavayi Project at the center of their educational programs to advance the education of all students.

"We're incorporating that into the schools (Kindergarten through Grade 12)," said Begay. "We really need community and parent support to make our language and culture as a core teaching and learning."

As a member of a 70-school district consortium, TCUSD works together with Vail Unified School District, an excelling school district in Vail, Ariz. to significantly improve the education outcomes of its seven schools.

Begay says TCUSD has a goal, which is for its students to take 90 percent of the Chief Manuelito scholarships.

"People say, 'Oh, that's impossible.' If you don't believe it, we'll tell them, 'There's the door.' We want people who believe in kids and ourselves," said Begay. "So that's the kind of environment we're putting together."

Last school year, TSUSD students took home nine Chief Manuelito scholarships and five Gates Millennium scholarships.

However, no explanation is needed for Tuba City Boarding School, one of the highest-achieving schools on the Navajo Nation, which was established in 1898 under the control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the education of American Indian children in Northern Arizona.

"TCBS is originally a self-sustaining and self-supporting school," said TCBS Principal Don Coffland of the school that is designed to teach students practical skills such as baking, agriculture, livestock care, gardening, cooking, and laundry care. "We're all about children first."

Tuba City Boarding has an enrollment of 1,335 that is divided into three academies: Little Thunderbird Academy (for Developmental Kindergarten through Grade 3), Rising Thunderbird Academy (for Grades 4 through 6), and Thunderbird Academy (for Grades 7 and 8).

Coffland says Navajo culture and language is being taught in all grades.

"I'm proud of our school," said Coffland about the school that has met the required Adequate Yearly Progress target for seven years in a row.

It's all about fun at Moencopi Day School, but "we work very, very hard," said Moencopi Chief School Administrator David Moore, who showed a photo slideshow of his students, 42 percent of whom are Navajo.

Moore says two ongoing activities at Moencopi are the manufacturing of paper bricks and an "outstanding" agricultural program."

"We've taken all of our shredded paper and we've been making them into paper bricks," said Moore. "We're going to be giving them to the elderly (to use) in their pellet stoves or to people that want to go camping. It's a great way to start a fire."

Moore says 40 pounds of shredded paper equals up to 156 paper bricks.

At the end of the meeting, Lewis bulleted eight points from a prior conference between the area school administrators called "Meeting of the Minds" that took place on July 31.

Contact Krista Allen at kallen@navajotimes.com.

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