Teachers Become Students at Soboba Preschool

About 10 Soboba Tribal Preschool staff members are learning the Luiseño language during weekly classes that began in June and will last until the end of the year. From left, teacher Ana Garcia, director Dianne King and teacher Melissa Arviso review their notes after a recent class on August 12. | Photo courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians.

Making good use of the Soboba Tribal Preschool’s absence of a summer session this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers began taking classes of their own to learn more of the Luiseño language. Preschool director Dianne King said this is something the staff has wanted to do for a long time, so they were excited when a mini grant from the Tribal Child Care Association of California was approved to meet this need.

Kindergarten teacher Cindy Lee said the classes are taking all of them to the point of learning the 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. He gives the teachers a chapter to study so they will be prepared for each meeting, where it is reviewed and discussed. He calls throughout the week to see if there are 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.”

Soboba Tribal Preschool teacher Ana Garcia said she has taken language classes through the TANF program but said these more intimate classes allows her to ask more questions, which is extremely 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 and said that having more native language incorporated into the curriculum is something she has always wanted to see at the preschool.

With the advent of this academic school year being held via distance learning for the foreseeable future, 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,” Melissa 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 added.

Kindergarten teacher and Soboba Tribal Member Antonia Venegas said she enjoys the classes but said it is not easy learning 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 has been learning enough as a student at Noli Indian School to be able to give blessings in their native language.

King said many Tribal members in the community have already expressed an interest in wanting to learn as well and they are searching for other grant opportunities to have classes for Tribal members of all ages.

The Luiseño language classes for preschool staff started June 29 and are expected to be held through the end of the year. Future goals include having language exposure increase at each grade level so that by the end of kindergarten, students will be able to easily converse with others in their native language.

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