Lummi Tribe opens boarding school to support students, strengthen pride
The Lummi Youth Academy, which opened this week, will serve up to 40 kids who will come here to live by the school's motto: hard work; healing; love; trust; respect and fun.
Seattle Times staff reporter
LUMMI NATION — For Lummi elder Fran James, boarding school was a place where she lost her language just to stay alive.
"It was survival," said James, 84. After her parents died when she was a child, she went to a series of boarding schools, where she was forbidden to speak her native language.
But she shed tears of joy Thursday as a guest of honor, helping to open a new residential academy at the Lummi Reservation: a home built just for them, right next to their school, to help provide the support they need to succeed academically, and in life.
"This is a dream come true," James said, watching as students, tribal members and more than 100 well-wishers toured the new facility, and shared a blessing ceremony and salmon feast to commemorate the opening of the Lummi Youth Academy.
The academy will serve as many as 40 kids who will come here to live by the school's motto: hard work; healing; love; trust; respect and fun.
Built at a cost of $2.1 million, the academy was four years in the making. It will cost about $1.4 million a year to run, funded by the tribe. A combination of foundations helped fund the planning and construction, including a grant from the Gates Foundation.
With a staff of 21, the school will provide a range of services to kids from grades 8-12; younger children might be included later.
And unlike the boarding schools of the past, this school is intended to be a support for Indian students and their families, and to strengthen students' cultural pride and identity.
There are 26 students enrolled already, including kids from the Cowichan First Nation in Canada and the Swinomish and Nooksack tribes. Students from the Lummi community have first crack at enrollment in the academy, but children from other tribes are welcome if there is space.
Student R.J. Roesbery showed off his room, so fresh and new and clean, with his own bed, dresser, desk and wardrobe.
With the academy just steps from the Lummi Nation School, "This will help me get to school on time," he said. "I am always missing the bus."
Heather Leighton, a Lummi tribal member and principal at the Lummi Nation School, said that after just a few days, she already sees a difference in student performance. Thanks to the academy, she's seeing kids in class who had been chronically late and absent in the past.
She said the academy should help the students reach higher standards set by the tribal school board this year. Students now must have passing grades to participate in sports, and she is expecting better attendance.
Families are invited to join their kids for dinner, and help with homework. Kids may live at the academy year-round if they choose. They receive free room and board, around-the-clock mentoring and support, academic advising, mental-health counseling, and cultural and spiritual support.
For some students, the academy will offer their first regular routine, including three meals a day and their own bed. The school is intended to provide a place for healing and growth for not just students, but for their family, too.
Elder Diane Vendiola, called by the tribe to the ceremony, remembered how her grandmother ran away from home at the Swinomish reservation, rather than be torn from her family and sent to boarding school.
"Lummi has come full circle; we no longer have to be taken away from our families to go to school."
Instead of stripping the kids of their identity, this school is meant to build it.
"Stand tall. Stand proud, this is who I am," is an anthem of the Lummi nation these kids will be encouraged to live by.
Program director Darrell Hillaire said he was reminded once more of the need for the academy when it opened for the first time on Sunday.
"It was the kid that arrived at 10:30," Hillaire said. We were supposed to open from noon to 6. But she couldn't wait to get here."
He has high hopes for this academy, hopes as high as what he knows to be the potential of these students.
"Our kids are smart. Our kids have dreams."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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