One hundred and seven elementary students stepped into their sparkling new classrooms for a full a day of school at the new Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy (charter school) on Tuesday.
While the school, consisting of four temporary modular units, opened about a week later than originally scheduled due to some minor glitches, principal Joel Weaver said, "We are officially in and excited to see this school become one of the best schools around."
The charter school, which started as a grassroots effort three years ago, fulfills the dream of parents, educators, community leaders and tribal elders who have longed to see a school of academic excellence immersed in the preservation of the culture and language of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes.
"Preservation of Native language is so important to our culture and all cultures," said Cyd Crue, the district's curriculum director. "Research has shown that if a student knows both their Native language and English, they are more likely to succeed in their future endeavors."
She went on to say, "Studies have shown that teaching kids a language at a young age changes their brain chemistry. They learn and retain the knowledge much better."
Starting from day one, the kindergarten students learned how to say ordinary classroom objects such as pencils and books and how to communicate their daily needs such as "asking for a drink of water or to use the restroom" by speaking the Shoshone language.
The school's language teacher, Rose Ann Abrahamson, said, "These kids are picking up the language like mad. They are learning cultural greetings and how to sing Happy Birthday."
Crue said that speaking English in the language classroom is frowned upon. It is spoken as little as possible.
"We are strict about the students and teachers staying in the Shoshone language during class time," she said. "It's easy to slip into a language that you are most comfortable with and lose focus."
School officials believe that the cultural revitalization taking place at the new school will encourage parent involvement and help stimulate a cultural revolution throughout the Fort Hall tribal community.
Once the teachers and the students are a bit more settled, officials at Chief Tahgee anticipate conducting an open house and inviting the public in to see what has been accomplished so far.
A few years down the road, officials say the plan is to build a full-sized, complete school on the 20 acres of property on Hiline Road (just north of the Sho-Ban High School) in Fort Hall where the school is currently-.
For more information about Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy visit: www.cteacademy.org or call 478-4024.