Sequoyah Schools offering more Cherokee language for students, parents


(L to R) Jeromy and Hayley Miller learn basics of the Cherokee syllabary from Immersion School teacher Nora Birdtail during a language class for parents of Immersion students.

, Okla. —A new grant is allowing Sequoyah Schools to offer more courses in the Cherokee language and start Cherokee language classes for parents. The grant is funded by the Administration of Native Americans’ Esther Martinez Initiative.

The three-year, nearly $900,000 grant will also help start a Cherokee language resource center for teachers, students and parents of Sequoyah Schools. Sequoyah’s school system includes Sequoyah High School and Cherokee Immersion Charter School.

The resource center is set to open this summer.

“We are doing something that no other tribe has done,” said Sequoyah Schools Compliance Manager Samantha Benn-Duke, who wrote the grant. “Many schools among Native people have started immersion programs that target early childhood, and may even go into early elementary and up to second grade. Few go beyond that.”

Currently, the Cherokee Immersion Charter School immerses students in pre-K through eighth-grade in the Cherokee language. Through the grant, the school will offer graduates of the immersion program who go on to high school at Sequoyah to have more Cherokee in their daily lessons. Once in high school, those students will be able to learn subjects like algebra and biology partially in Cherokee.

Another goal of the grant is to encourage parents to better communicate with their Cherokee speaking children. Parent classes are now being held Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays to teach parents basic phrases and commands in Cherokee.

“I think when our children see us trying to learn the language, that will help increase their interest in it,” Cherokee Immersion Charter School parent Dawni Mackey said. “For an endangered language to survive, there must be strong parental support and participation. The kids are used to the language at school, but we need to foster language learning environments outside of school as well.”

The grant is also funding a new resource center on the Immersion School campus. All materials in the center, including books, worksheets and videos will be translated into Cherokee and available for students and their parents to check out.

The grant is also being used to develop new benchmark tests in Cherokee. Currently, Immersion third through eighth graders take state assessments in math and reading in the English language. The grant allows for the development of three new assessments in those subjects, but all in Cherokee. The assessments will be given in the beginning, middle and end of the school year to measure student progress, and will be fully implemented next school year. The assessments will be used internally.

For more information on the grant, Cherokee classes or resource center, contact Benn-Duke at 918-453-5712 or

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