New school opens where students can embrace Native American culture – The Durango Herald

“Once you have a whole child, the test results will come”, says the school principal

Ute Mountain Ute tribe elder Alfred Wall, center, addresses children at Kwiyagat Community Academy ahead of his blessing Monday on the first day of school in Towaoc. He was joined by tribal council members Lyndreth Wall and Archie House Jr., and school principal Danny Porter, right. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

TOWAOC – Kwiyagat Community Academy, the new Ute Mountain Ute charter school, opened Monday to 23 kindergarten and first graders.

Long in preparation, the school’s inaugural day was a pivotal moment in Ute Mountain Utes’ education. Kwiyagat aims to grow year by year, with school officials hoping to offer additional education from grades two to four next year.

Although the new school building is not finished, it should be finished by the end of September. Until then, the children are learning in a temporary modular building.

The journey to day one was not easy, with several discussions leading up to the eventual birth of the school. In a virtual meeting on September 3, 2020, a student at Fort Lewis College said his educational opportunities came “at the expense of my culture.”

Kwiyagat will provide a sanctuary for emerging minds to embrace their culture alongside STEM and other study programs.

Redsky Lang, 5, holds her drawing she made on her first day of school at Kwiyagat Community Academy on Monday in Towaoc. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

The school’s charter application was approved by the Colorado Charter School Institute on October 27, 2020, making it the first public institution to be approved on a reserve in the state. The institute approved the school’s contract on January 19, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council approved the contract on January 27.

School principal Dan Porter expects more students to enroll as the school year progresses.

“People are going to start coming here because it’s project-based,” he said.

An educator in the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 school district for 25 years, Porter said he believed there was an increasing emphasis on standardized testing within the public school system and subject enrichment such as music had become a priority.

Students line up for recess on Monday for the first day of school at Kwiyagat Community Academy in Towaoc. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Kwiyagat aims to provide children with a full education, he said.

“Once you have a whole child, the test results will come,” he said.

Tribal elder Alfred Wall led a school blessing just after 10 a.m.

“Everything we do, we always start with a prayer,” he said.

Archie House Jr., Ute Mountain Ute board member, addresses the children at Kwiyagat Community Academy on Monday on the first day of school in Towaoc. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Council members present for the monumental day adorned it with a printed blanket – a custom in keeping with Native American tradition to bestow a token on someone when they show appreciation.

The opening of the school aroused feelings of nostalgia in Wall. He remembered a time when there was a residential school on the reserve. It had four classrooms and went up to fifth or sixth grade, he said.

It closed in 1958.

“We were all sent to Cortez or to boarding school,” he said. “Now we are back on the reservation. “

The new charter school is different, however.

Board member Lyndreth Wall said attendees were not allowed to speak their native language at Ute Mountain boarding school.

Kwiyagat, on the other hand, embraces the Ute language and culture, opening his arms to not only students from the reserve, but anyone who is interested.

The elders will visit the school periodically to teach the children the utes language and stories.

“I’m a big fan of infrastructure,” said Lyndreth Wall. “The infrastructure of our reserve is education. “

Council Secretary Archie House Jr. said the new school will also help students bridge any educational and social gaps they have experienced in the wake of the pandemic by switching to online learning.

Michael Beard, 5, shows his enthusiasm on the first day of school at Kwiyagat Community Academy on Monday in Towaoc. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Eddie Loughran grew up in the Navajo Nation near Moenkopi, Arizona.

Until this school year, he was a teacher in Denver.

But when he heard about Kwiyagat, he jumped at the chance to teach the students in a way that was close to his heart.

“This is my chance to give back to the people who have given me so much,” he said.

The kids were restless – and that’s understandable. They participated in a variety of activities on day one, including coloring, learning songs, and a friendly game of tag as they explored their new classroom and got to know their peers.

“There is so much stimulation,” Loughran said. “They’re doing fine with this.”

From the 2016-17 school year, there were 31 charter schools on 22 reserves in 11 states. 12 more were enumerated that year on other lands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The school has received a few grants that have helped its development, including a $ 2.7 million grant from the Response Innovation and Student Equity Fund, as well as a $ 210,500 grant from the Colorado Charter School Program.

For more information about the school, visit

Kwiyagat Community Academy teacher Jennifer Flaherty is forcing students to line up to go inside after recess on Monday for the first day of school. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Students at Kwiyagat Community Academy in Towaoc play hide and seek during recess Monday on the first day of school. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

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