TUBA CITY, Ariz. - When it comes to cultural programs, the Tuba City Unified School District (TCUSD) has always been a top innovator.
This year, Adair Klopfenstein, of Navajo and German descent, is the new Native Cultural Studies Director. The district will now incorporate what administrators call a "stronghold of education blended harmoniously with Native language, culture and values."
Klopfenstein is not entirely new to the district. He originally worked for the district in 2001 for two years as the Tuba City High School welding teacher and football coach. He then moved to Dulce, N.M. and taught history and Native culture there for three years before moving back to Tuba City in 2008 to teach high school English.
Klopfenstein comes from a cross-cultural family. His mother is full blooded Navajo from Coalmine and his father is a full blooded German. Klopfenstein attended Utah State University and earned both his bachelors and masters degrees.
Though Klopfenstein was not a fluent speaker of his Navajo language when he was younger, it became one of his goals to become fluent as an adult so that he could also practice and learn how to become a Hatathlie or Medicine man.
Klopfenstein has met his language goal. He brings his personal life and educational experience to the students he assists academically and encourages them to speak either Navajo or Hopi letting them know that if he was able to learn a traditional language, they can too.
"I feel I have a tremendous opportunity to do something really meaningful for the students at Tuba City District," Klopfenstein said. "I have a much better understanding now of what a struggle it is for Native non-speakers to try to incorporate their own tribal values and understanding of education, how to bring those Native cultural values and ideas into their world to help them become a genuine success. I can truly understand how non-speakers can even feel shame in not speaking or understanding their own tribal language. We can help with that. That is where this TCUSD Native Cultural Studies program is going to go. We will be able to help students relate to their own tribal culture and languages and give some insight and instructional guidance on how to use it to their best advantage for their academic careers."
According to Tuba Superintendent Harold G. Begay, the director of the Native American Cultural Studies program is responsible for facilitating and developing "greater intimate knowledge and understanding of our traditional indigenous humanistic teachings and philosophy as they apply to contemporary life."
The newly revamped TCUSD Center for the Advancement of Indigenous Cultural Studies (CAICS) will specifically use both the Diné and the Hopi language and cultural studies to redesign, embrace and incorporate community cultural values and wisdom.
District board members and Begay feel the daily use of indigenous language and cultural knowledge will empower and promote harmonious personal, social and educational growth for their students.
The district will put the Diné philosophy of learning and the Hopilavayi (Hopi program) at the forefront of their educational programs.
"To do well in any life endeavor including high academic distinction, we must acknowledge and accept the need for a fundamental sense of importance for our own indigenous cultural stability, coherency and continuity. It's essential that we first cultivate an abiding collective strength based on indigenous culture to establish or re-establish of strong personal indigeneity and self-identity as a firm cultural anchor," Begay said.
Research suggests that Native students who are grounded in their own tribal traditions are far more resilient and more likely to succeed in education and life endeavors.
District officials will encourage students to take part in hands-on, real world Native cultural experiences to illuminate the special significance of both the Diné and Hopi language, culture and learning.
"We want to create an environment where our students must communicate in either Hopi or Navajo language everyday in their classrooms," Klopfenstein said. "This will build confidence and create a safe-caring learning environment which builds their language fluency skill which will be the foundation of our native studies program. There will be formal thematic units of instruction and emphasis on ways to improve work skills, moral and character building skills with outreach parent programs to help and support their children in learning more about their native heritage. These will also be done in the culturally and seasonally appropriate times."
Klopfenstein said the district is implementing an online Navajo language class and an online government and history class where high school students off of the Reservation can earn credits and eligibility for scholarships from the Navajo Tribe.
"This is just the beginning of what will be a fully rounded student focused Native program," he said. "I'd also like to acknowledge my beautiful wife Ernestine, my parents Jon and Marilyn Klopfenstein and my wonderful children who were so supportive of me pursuing this goal. I'd also like to thank all my spiritual and life philosophy mentors, Leo Edison, Charlie McCabe and Bobby Begay. They never gave up on me and taught me what they knew with such care and patience."
More information about the new Native Studies program is available from Klopfenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Tuba City Unified School District website at www.tcusd.org.