KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - The Hopi Day school has always been a center of the community in Kykotsmovi. According to Principal John Thomas, it is a community school for the people. Thomas has been teaching in the BIA system for more than 20 years from White Mountain to Moencopi Day School. He has a strong feeling about community involvement and feels that Hopi Day School is a "community school open to activities."
One of his unique approaches is his encouragement of using the Hopi language in the school. He encourages anyone of his staff - from the custodians to the teachers - to speak to the kids in Hopi. He supports Hopi language in the classroom and states that if there was a concern about grades being affected, he hasn't seen any negative impact. He feels that in order for kids to speak their language they have to hear it continually.
Thomas has seen tribes in Oklahoma that have no language and recalls when he lived in the White Mountain area, he would hear people speaking Apache all the time. So he is aware of the importance of retaining the language. This is a far cry from the days of language suppression.
Each week in grades K-8, there is a block of time set aside for Hopi language so it is part of the curriculum. He credits Sheila Nicholas for consulting for the last seven years and the paraprofessionals that put their heart and soul into the program. They go above and beyond their regular duties to participate in the language program.
An after school language class also is offered. Thomas states that even though the after school program competes with the sports programs, it still gets a good turnout. He feels that in order for students to be successful, language is an important aspect of their success.
"In order to be truly successful, schools have a role to encourage parents that kids can do it," he stated.
Thomas commented that many times, kids have a fear of speaking Hopi because they may be laughed at. If language isn't being used at home, then it's up to the schools to have a leadership role to get parents and grandparents more involved. After Hopi children get to a certain age, roughly around fifth and sixth grade, they focus on their peers. At that point it becomes more difficult for them to speak Hopi. So it's best to start speaking Hopi at a young age.
He stated also that if you look back seven years ago it was rare to hear Hopi in the schools. Now he hears it all the time. Thomas observes, "Kids feel good about themselves when speaking the language."
There were concerns at first that bringing Hopi language in the schools would affect English test scores, but there has been virtually no impact.
Thomas says if students keep hearing Hopi, they become more accustomed to the language. He encourages his cooks to speak Hopi to the students. He also says that even non-Hopis should even pick up some Hopi words. He has also used Hopi as a discipline tool so that if kids may have spoken inappropriately he gets his facility manager to speak to them in Hopi to let them know that it was inappropriate. Thomas knows a few words but is hearing impaired so it's hard for him to pick it up. He also stated that what he has at the school "wasn't designed but has evolved".
Thomas reiterates that he has not seen any negative impact since introducing Hopi language into the school and if kids are bilingual, then they are truly successful.