Building Partners and Building Community

By Philip Sittnick

Laguna Middle School (LMS), on the Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation in New Mexico, opened its doors in 1992 as the first tribally designed, built, and operated school in the state. Our vision and philosophy are based on the belief that the Laguna community is not only capable of running its own school, but is uniquely qualified to determine its own educational future. The tribe's dream of controlling their educational destiny has been furthered by two Lagunas in particular: Gil Sanchez, Laguna Departme nt of Education Superintendent, and Nick Cheromiah, LMS Principal, who have provided the expertise and leadership necessary to make this vision a reality. As a relatively new teacher (I began my teaching career when the school began), I've had the exciting opportunity to learn from these educators and this community, and to participate in their historic undertaking.

Much of LMS's success stems from our commitment to making it a real community-based school. For example, when we determined how we would organize the delivery of curriculum at different grade levels, we invited the entire community to help us decide. We took the time to educate all those concerned about the pros and cons associated with different methods. We held several informative meetings about the various approaches to middle level education, during the day and in the evening, and invited parents and all interested community members to attend. Staff, too, were provided with current research on the various options so they could make an informed decision. We also taught our students about the alternatives in class, so they could participate as well.

We sought an organizational structure that would best reflect the community's needs and desires. Collaboratively, we decided on what we call a "transitional model," in which each grade would be organized differently. Sixth grade would operate much like elementary, with core academics taught in self-contained classes, but with movement to elective courses to introduce them to the choices available at higher levels. In the seventh grade, students would experience the interdisciplinary, "middle school" model. And finally, in the eighth grade, students would have a departmentalized program that would more likely prepare them for high school. This process illustrates our commitment to careful deliberation, and decision-making that includes the entire community. In making LMS a true community-based school, we try to give every stakeholder some ownership and a voice in determining how we operate.

Our mission mandates preparing our students to participate in many world societies, including the global technological society. Realizing the educational opportunities offered by telecommunications and the Internet, we have made a major investment to become a stop on the Information Superhighway­an actual In-ternet node, something that few K-12 schools have tried. This decision was influenced by the successful telecommunications work already underway in my classes on BreadNet, and by the assistance and training Bread Loaf has been providing to our staff. Using BreadNet, my students have participated in numerous on-line discussions with students in many states. BreadNet has proven to be a powerful tool for them to use in reaching out to other worlds, simultaneously expanding their social horizons and their communication skills.

Laguna recently received a major U. S. Department of Education grant to help implement technology into Native American schools nationwide. We hope to develop a telecommunications network that resembles BreadNet, which will allow studentsand teachers in participating schools to collaborate electronically. Bread Loaf significantly informs our efforts to provide our students with high quality education and access to other world societies. Laguna Middle School and Bread Loaf have entered into an unusual partnership: a middle school and a graduate school working together to strengthen and improve learning and teaching in schools and communities.

Back to Table of Contents of the Fall 1996 Issue of On Common Ground

© 1997 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

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