Law limits teaching of native languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Oct 11 12:43:41 UTC 2002

                    Law limits teaching of native languages

 Carmen Duarte, Associated Press,  Oct. 4, 2002 12:00 AM

TUCSON - Siiki means red. Tosai is white. Tewei is blue.

 Juan Esquivias recited the colors in Yoeme, the native language of the
Yaqui tribe. He is recalling words taught to him by teaching assistants
Narciso Bule-Garcia and Maria Cupis, who are tribal elders.  Juan, a
fifth-grader at the Southwest Side Lawrence Intermediate School, and his
classmates in Victoria Hawk's class now depend on a computer instead of
the American Indian teachers to learn the Yaqui language, culture and
customs. Bule-Garcia and Cupis were the only language specialists at the
school working to preserve Yoeme, a dying indigenous language. But the two
Yaqui elders no longer teach at Lawrence because a federal law requires
them to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent.

                    The school has 370 students, and 55 percent are Yaqui
children. The federal law went into effect this fall for teaching assistants
at schools with federally funded Title 1 programs. Title 1 provides additional
money to schools with large numbers of low-income students.

                    The new law is designed to place the most qualified
teaching assistants with the neediest children, said Bob Wortman, director of
school improvement and Title 1 programs for the Tucson Unified School
District. Teaching assistants hired after Jan. 8, 2002, must have an
associate's degree or two years of college, or pass a proficiency test.

                    Like Bule-Garcia and Cupis, four other Yaqui teaching
assistants at two other schools with large Yaqui student populations were
affected in 2002. "It is hard to find Yaqui-language instructors or tutors who
are fully bilingual who can come work at schools with these low wages. The pay
starts at $7.23 an hour," Wortman said.

                    Twenty-eight teaching assistants were removed from Title 1
schools and temporarily reassigned, Wortman said. He said 80 assistants are
working on earning a GED or high school diploma. Karen Wynn, director of
TUSD's Native American Studies department, said she is asking the Arizona
Department of Education's Office of Indian Education to clarify the new
federal regulations in relation to another federal law, the Native American
Languages Act of 1990.

                    "The federal government, under the act, supports tribes
and local agencies to assist in the revitalization and preservation of Native
American languages," Wynn said.  She said she hopes that under the act, Bule-
Garcia and Cupis can return to the classroom.

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