BRIGHTON — In August 2015 an innovative program began at the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School with the goal of creating Creek speakers from infancy.
With only about 30 or 40 fluent Creek speakers in the Tribe, time was of the essence.
Initially, the Creek immersion program was housed in the Creek Language Enrichment House on campus and started with 10 babies and toddlers who spent their days speaking only Creek to identify colors, numbers, pictures and each other through conversation and demonstration.
Elders fluent in Creek and teachers who were learning the language along with the children provided the foundation of the program.
Six children, who are part of that first group, reached kindergarten last fall. They have their own kindergarten classroom near the original building, where the students now learn English and Creek.
There are four other children in the program: two in pre-kindergarten and two infants.
Jade Osceola and Jennie Shore run the program. In addition to reading, writing and grammar, Osceola teaches math, science and social studies in Creek while instructor Eduarda Anselmo teaches the students English for one hour and 45 minutes every day.
Osceola and Anselmo coordinate curriculums regularly. Osceola said there is no word for groundhog in Creek, so for Groundhog Day the teachers both taught a lesson about shadows. For Valentine’s Day, the curriculum was about friendship and giving each other compliments.
“It’s revolutionary what we are doing,” Osceola said. “We use as little English as we can, but we follow Florida state standards.”
Anselmo believes the success of the program has a lot to do with how well she and Osceola work together and said the lessons are reinforced by teaching them in both languages.
The rest of the immersion program is a Creek-only zone, but when the students enter the kindergarten classroom they transition smoothly into English.
The students wanted to be in a “real” school atmosphere, so Anselmo made the room look like any other kindergarten classroom at PECS. The room is decorated with English words everywhere; the colorful bulletin boards include a word wall, sentences, sight words and spelling words. Not a word of Creek anywhere.
“When they come in the classroom I tell them to put Creek in your pocket and English in your mouth,” Anselmo said. “I think it helps them switch their brains on and off.”
A state certified foreign language (Spanish) and elementary school teacher with 11 years of teaching under her belt, Anselmo has been developing the curriculum for the program since the start.
She has mentored the immersion teachers in how to teach language, even though she isn’t a Creek speaker. Since Anselmo already knew how to teach foreign language, the grammatical patterns of Creek came quickly to her.
“Now, five years later, the teachers are doing fine,” Anselmo said. “I feel confident in where we are with the kids.”
In class, she uses as much English as possible, but gives commands such as sit down, be quiet and stand up in Creek. Anselmo said the students are blending English with Creek successfully and making the transition to English really fast.
“It won’t affect their Creek learning; kids can learn multiple languages at once,” she said. “I want the kids to be able to slide right into regular school.
I’m preparing them for a transition if it ever happens. These kids are very bright.”
No decision has been made about where the kindergarteners will go next year for first grade, but the idea is to keep them together.
Osceola said there are no plans for them to join the regular PECS population and the parents are on board with that.
“We want to keep the connection with the kids and keep them focused,” Osceola said. “We don’t want to break up what we have. Our kids are like little old people and they want to stay with the other old people. We have created a mini family.”