When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Soboba Tribal Preschool to cancel its regular summer session, staff took advantage of the down time to implement a program they have wanted to do for a long time. Thanks to a mini grant from the Tribal Child Care Association of California, preschool director Dianne King and teachers began taking classes to learn more of the native language of their students.
Kindergarten teacher Cindy Lee said the classes are covering the Luiseño language in a conversational way that can be adapted into the school’s curriculum.
“We’ve always done vocabulary words in both English and Luiseño, but this is going to give us a chance to greet students and ask simple questions in their native language and have them learn how to respond,” Lee said.
Alfred “Charlie” Arviso Jr. serves as the instructor for 10 teachers that attend weekly classes that last from two to two and one-half hours. The lessons are a combination of worksheets and lessons from the “Introduction to Luiseño” textbook. The teachers study a chapter to study so they will be prepared for each meeting, where it is reviewed and discussed. Arviso contacts them throughout the week to see if they have any questions.
“It has been a great investment in our youth to have this language program,” King said. “The classes have been extremely motivating for the teachers. They have incorporated the language in the classroom décor, circle time activities and songs. The classroom toys are labeled in English/Luiseño as much as possible (if there is an English word available).”
Lee said she enjoys the extensive reviews, ensuring that the teachers who are now students thoroughly understand each lesson before moving on. She has learned that many words don’t translate verbatim from the English to Luiseño, helping her understand why some things need to be worded a little differently.
“We are learning about the grammar and how to put it together and use it properly,” Lee said. “We can ask (our students) questions now, such as, ‘Good morning, how are you?’ and they will be able to answer us.”
Teacher Ana Garcia said she has taken language classes through the TANF program but said these more intimate classes allow her to ask more questions, which she found helpful.
“I’m excited to be able to teach this language to our native children,” Garcia said.
Melissa Arviso is also a teacher at the preschool. She said that having more native language incorporated into the curriculum is something she has always wanted to see at the preschool.
With the beginning of the school year being held online only, King said having new Luiseño language lessons included in the take-home packets will give parents the opportunity to learn alongside their child.
“I’m excited for the parents who get to see and hear their children learning their native language,” Arviso said. “Sending homework home with the children will give parents a chance to be learning with their kids.”
She said she is proud of her own children who are very culture-oriented due to the strong influence of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
“They are proud of who they are and where they came from and have followed a Native path,” she said.
Kindergarten teacher and Soboba tribal member Antonia Venegas said she enjoys the classes but it is not easy for her to learn the language.
“A lot of the things we do ceremonial-wise incorporate the Luiseño language, so that’s helping me,” she said, adding that her son learned enough as a student at Noli Indian School to give blessings in their native language.