- In one Tohono O'odham story, there was a boy whose mother loved
to play toka, an Indian game akin to field hockey. The boy followed
his mother to faraway matches, only to be ignored.
and lonely, the boy wandered into the desert, crying, and turned
into a saguaro that grew strong and stately.
story is why the saguaro is symbolic of the Ha:san Preparatory &
Leadership School, a charter school with about 150 students - 99
percent of them American Indian and most of them members of the
Tohono O'odham Nation.
13 percent of American Indians have bachelor's degrees, less than
half the national average. Indian students also have lower retention
rates after one year of college than any other ethnic group.
students also fare poorly - for example, 82 percent of Arizona's
white fifth-graders passed their reading exams last year, compared
with 47 percent of Indian fifth-graders.
academic results so far have been mixed, educators at Ha:san say
their innovative approach shows great promise. Foreign-language
requirements are met with two years of Tohono O'odham language training,
though Spanish is offered as well.
students learn traditional native art and tribal songs and grow
traditional crops, such as squash and beans.
students still learn American history - it's a standard required
by the state - but teachers understand there's going to be some
resistance to hearing about what happened on the colonial frontier.
In learning the material, students are asked to consider history
from the native perspective, since those voices aren't always heard
of the teachers are American Indian, and all spend one hour of professional
development a week integrating language and culture.
Ortiz, 19, decided to go to the school two years ago to be surrounded
by other Indian students.
thought it was important so that I could learn more about my culture,"
schools she attended might have had social clubs for Indian students
but lacked the academic focus. She struggles with the language,
she said, but thinks it's important to learn because she worries
that it will disappear.
school is not on the reservation, in part because when it was founded
11 years ago, there was concern among tribal members that it would
take the best and brightest students and harm the existing school
time, the relationship with the tribe has grown and the location,
near the University of Arizona, helps serve as a bridge between
the more insular world of the reservation and the larger community,
said the school's grant writer, Lynne Colombe, a member of the Rosebud
Sioux tribe of South Dakota.