Hualapai Daycare’s Bilingual Language and Culture Program
By Chira Walema
Our Hualapai Daycare center is located in Peach Springs, Arizona. It is a full-inclusion program that serves families with children ages 6 months to 6 years. Our center includes an infant room, a toddler room, and a preschool room. There is also a room for the children who attend an extended-day program here after their school day.
Our mission is “to provide positive and rich quality day care by encouraging each child to express themselves through language, art, music, and physical movement.” A major program goal is to preserve and teach the Hualapai language and culture to future generations, and we do that at our daycare starting in the infant room.
Our program is fortunate to have a preschool teacher on staff, Rosella Siyuja, who is a Hualapai language and culture leader in our program and the community. Rosella goes into the infant room and sings songs in Hualapai to the babies. She teaches the toddlers Hualapai songs and dance movements, and uses Hualapai words for transitioning them from one activity to another.
Eight of the thirteen staff members are Hualapai, and all staff are working together to implement this bilingual program.
With the preschoolers and after-school children Rosella teaches colors, shapes, numbers, and other age-appropriate concepts in Hualapai, as well as traditional songs and dances that they perform at events in the community. The Hualapai language is displayed around the center, as well, and is included on the teachers’ lesson plans. Even my sign that says “Office” is displayed in both languages!
The children’s family members are invited to participate in workshops and center events, and are provided with information about the Hualapai language and culture program we are implementing. They are excited about the language and culture preservation activities, and are eager to learn along with their children.
In addition to implementing the bilingual program at our center, we collaborate closely with local agencies to provide needed services and enrichment activities to the Hualapai community. Once a month the children aged toddlers through teenagers meet at the Boys and Girls Club to attend a “Social Gathering” held there. Rosella teaches the girls how to do the traditional Hualapai Bird Dance, and the boys learn to play a gourd and sing a traditional song that accompanies the dancers.
Annually the community celebrates “Hualapai Day” which features a parade in which participants can compete for prizes. This year our program children performed the traditional Bird Dance in front of the judges stand, and we were awarded a plaque for 2nd place!
Family events we are planning for this winter include:
- A sewing night where participants will learn to do beading for traditional dresses, and also how to make ribbon shirts;
- A storytelling night – Cheryl Beecher will tell traditional Hualapai stories that can only be told when the weather is cold.
Families and the community are informed about events through distributed flyers, on our local radio station, in our local paper The Gamyu, and in postings on our community advertising resource.
We also have a series of Native Language Enrichment Books that teach common Hualapai words and phrases. An MP3 format is also included. These resources were funded by First Things First, with Lucille Watahomigie, from our local Hualapai Language and Culture Resource Department, providing her expertise.
To learn more language and cultural preservation and revitalization strategies, Rosella went to a conference in Santa Fe last month. Our dedicated staff continues to seek new ways to involve the younger generation, starting with our babies, so that our Hualapai language, culture and heritage will not be lost.
Staff, children and families participate in this commemorative event held each April.
Here’s more information in an article by Chaunie Brusie, RN, includes research on how babies learn to become bilingual.
More on our program with a First Things First article featuring Hualapai Day Care
Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.