Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Jemez Pueblo Focusing on Traditional Language With Early Headstart Center


New Mexico is putting millions towards early childhood education. And in the Jemez Pueblo community, that means focusing on the traditional Towa language.

At the new Walatowa Early Childhood Learning Center, Towa will be prioritized as the first language for children, according to the Pueblo of Jemez. The Jemez Pueblo is the sole remaining pueblo that speaks the Jemez Language (Towa), and the learning center is part of a statewide effort to boost early education across New Mexico.

“Our unique and valuable community-based education incorporates the community’s vibrant traditional calendar as well as art, music, dance, learning through movement, play, and exploration of our community and nature through science and math,” New Mexico Head Start Manager, Lana Garcia, said in a press release.

Over $6 million in funding for the Walatowa center comes from capital outlay. State lawmakers Sen. Benny Shendo, Jr. (D-Bernalillo, McKinley, Rio Arriba, San Juan & Sandoval) and Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Rio Arriba, Sandoval & San Juan) as well as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham have been supporters of the project.

“This investment is part of Governor Lujan-Grisham’s commitment to early childhood education

in New Mexico,” Shendo said. “Jemez’ innovation in education, ties to culture and language, and community involvement are at the core of the center’s design and focus. We hope this accomplishment continues to serve as an example of the state’s commitment to work with tribes throughout the state.”

The Jemez Pueblo spans 89,000 acres and counts a population of 3,400 tribal members. In 2012, the Jemez Tribal Council converted their Walatowa Head Start to full language immersion. Four years later, the National Office of Head Start, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revised their performance standards to allow language programs to teach in their Native languages and no longer require English as a medium of instruction.

At the groundbreaking of the head start building last year, Gov. Lujan Grisham said “When we teach our cultural ways and traditions, our languages, where we support our children and our families to have all that is available, every single opportunity will lay itself in front of our children and our families.”


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