It was a celebration of education and being life-long learners.
Students from all 15 Central Consolidated School District schools took the stage to showcase their work at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock, New Mexico. They performed Sept. 29 -30, 2016 inside the CCSD tent near the Exhibit Hall, less than 100 yards from the carnival and rodeo grounds.
“Our children made the difference. With the community having the impact of the Gold King Mine spill (from Colorado), we didn’t have all the farmers that we thought. People come here (to the Fair) for that. They come here for the produce, that’s what we’re known for,” said Dr. Colleen W. Bowman, the District’s interim superintendent.
“But we’re growing our children … we’re showing that we are able to grow from our community. And it was all of our schools. We had Kirtland, Ojo Amarillo, Newcomb, Naschitti, and Shiprock band together, and being able to support each other. That was really great.”
The performances, which included dancing and singing, focused on Navajo language and culture as well as some Spanish bilingual performances. Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra songs were also performed, plus the classic hit theme from Hawaii Five-0.
The student showcases ranged from 5th Graders at Eva B. Stokely Elementary performing the Yei’Bi’Chei Dance, to Newcomb Elementary students singing George M. Cohan’s You’re a Grand Old Flag, and to Shiprock High School Marine Corps Jr. ROTC’s Armed Drill Team performance.
“One reason for the Fifty Nifty United States (song) was to make sure the students were familiar with all of the states. As a result going through the song they are able to memorize all the names of the states in alphabetical order. It was kind of an across the curriculum strategy that I had,” said Keith Bouslog, music teacher at Newcomb Elementary and Naschitti Elementary.
Career Prep High School students did a prayer blessing in Navajo on the Four Cardinal Directions.
“I wish kids, young generation, can speak Navajo so they can carry on their tradition, let everybody know our tradition ain’t fading away. It’s just getting stronger. It should get stronger, you know what I mean?” Career Prep High student Joseph MacDonald said in an interview.
“He was spot on when he was talking about that particular ability to carry both cultures forward,” Dr. Bowman said afterward.
“They always talk about walking this line—either you’re modern or traditional you have to have this balance. I think we’ve paved a new road where the foundation is our culture and we walk on that road armed with western knowledge. It’s no longer balancing—we have a foundation. I am so proud of them.”
Kirtland Central High School Assistant Principal Matt Jopek sang Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon with the KCHS Jazz Band—which included a solo performance on the alto sax by Elizabeth Clyde.
“It was a great experience to sing with the students of the Jazz Band. It was an honor,” Jopek said. “They were excited about me performing with them too, which made it that much more fun.”
There was a Jingle Dress Dance performed by Shiprock High School Dine Club member and senior Athena John.
“It means a lot to me and my family. This is a healing dress,” Athena said. “My grandfather, he is very ill. I did Fancy Dance at first, but I changed over to Jingle because I want to heal my grandfather.
“I’m in the (Shiprock High) Dine Club because I have a lot of heritage happiness. My traditional side means a lot to me and my family. I wouldn’t want this generation to lose their traditional and cultural side,” Athena added.
The student performances gained the attention of U.S. Senator Tom Udall who visited the CCSD student showcase.
“I’ve been talking with one of the school teachers here from Newcomb. Let’s just hear it for all of these schools here represented in the Central Consolidated School District,” Udall said to the audience in the CCSD tent, who applauded. “It’s an opportunity to see first-hand these student performances.”
The CCSD students also gained the attention of the Fair’s sacred healers, known as the Yei’Bi’Chei, who walked silently and slowly in front of the tent Friday, not failing to turn heads and gather a small crowd of Fairgoers who made donations.
There were several Basket Dances from schools, the singing of the National Anthem in Navajo, the Pledge of Allegiance in Navajo, a presentation on Navajo weaving, as well as presentations by school Dine Clubs in the Navajo language, and a lot of music—including from Ojo Amarillo Elementary.
“We have different cultures, we have Filipino kids, we have Hispanic kids, we have Navajo kids. I’m trying to use different cultural means of music to introduce kids to different cultures,” said Natalia Kruse, the music teacher at Ojo Amarillo Elementary.
The Ojo Amarillo Elementary students’ musical performances included Go My Son by Arliene Nofchissey Williams and Carnes Burson as well as Queen’s We Are the Champions.
“It sends a great message—in this life you have to be champions,” said Kruse, who brought 45 students from 2nd through 6th grade. “Everybody wanted to go, and I have so many good singers,” she added.
Eva B. Stokely Elementary—which has a dual-language program for kindergarten through 5th grade students—brought 56 students. Their performances included a Horse Dance and a Basket Dance.
“The last one was the Nightway Chant Dance—the Yei’Bi’Chei Dance,” said Bernita Bedah, an EBS dual-language teacher.
“It really shocked us this year that the 5th graders said they want to do the Yei’Bi’Chei.”
“We said we would get those resources for you. No one has ever asked us to do the Yei’Bi’Chei Dance,” Bedah said, adding, “When I went out to talk to different medicine men they said, ‘You have to learn it. This is the new generation and if we want the ceremony to stay alive and be taught these kids have to learn it now.’”
There was also a pow wow Grass Dance from the Northern Plains performed by Kirtland Middle School student Kameron Tsosie.
“It means a lot. It’s dancing for my people and showing what I do for my tradition,” said Tsosie, who has been dancing for about 7 years. “I was just a little nervous but I got over it,” he said about performing in front of other students and community members.
Kirtland Central High School Jazz Band performed the Hawaii Five-0 hit TV show theme originally recorded by the Ventures in 1969.
“I like to pick a lot of variety for the kids so they can learn different styles,” said Deanna Stevens, the KCHS band teacher.
Shiprock High School student Jaylen John (pictured below)—who played classical guitar for the CCSD staff’s Back-to-School training in August—started his guitar set with Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and took off from there with a variety of contemporary songs.
“I chose that one because it’s the Shiprock Fair and Johnny Cash is really well known and popular, especially around here at this time of year.”
The District’s Administration worked closely with the 15 schools and the Fair itself to make the CCSD showcase event—now in its second year—possible.
The schools that sent students to perform Sept. 29 were Eva B. Stokely Elementary, Mesa Elementary, Naschitti Elementary, Newcomb Elementary, Ojo Amarillo Elementary, Judy Nelson Elementary, Kirtland Elementary, and Nizhoni Elementary.
The schools that sent students to perform Sept. 30 were Career Prep High School, Newcomb Middle School, Newcomb High School, Kirtland Middle School, Kirtland Central High School, Tse’ Bit Ai’ Middle School, and Shiprock High School.
“The students are doing excellent,” said Don Hornbecker, CCSD’s coordinator of elementary schools who doubled as the event’s master of ceremonies. “I believe the parents and community really appreciate seeing their kids on stage.”
The CCSD Maintenance Department put up the tent, installed seating, a woodchip floor, and a cooling system, as well as carried and stored supplies, ran the sound system, and handled other logistics, while the CCSD Transportation Department provided buses to transport students.
CCSD Maintenance worker Arnold Pete (not pictured) played the guitar and sang between school performances for both days.
Several other CCSD offices were also involved, including the Heritage Education Center and Federal Programs, as well as District staff that were on site to hand out water bottles and pencils and erasers.
Student work was displayed in the CCSD tent Saturday for Fairgoers to see following the Fair parade. There was also Zumba dancing. The CCSD Human Resources Office was also there to answer any questions.