Students Honored for Commitment to Teaching

May 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 11-4: All Our Children Are Special, Tribal College News

Christina and Justina Jones were honored by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton in January. Photo by Sandy Scott

Two sisters from the Navajo Reservation were invited to attend the 2000 State of the Union Address and represent the nation’s tribal colleges. Christina and Justina Jones, students at Diné College in Tsaile, Ariz., were recognized for their commitment to teaching and community service. Christina was introduced on national television at the address.

“It’s an honor,” said Christina, 23, who lives in Round Rock, Ariz. “This shows the importance of tribal colleges and how important it is to have more Indian teachers.” Christina and Justina, 25, are third-year teacher students at their tribe’s own fully-accredited college, where Navajo language and philosophy are part of their studies. Diné College–the oldest and largest of the 33 tribal colleges–has graduated more than 20 teachers since 1998. “They will be fantastic teachers,” said Ben Barney, director of the Diné Teacher Education Program. “They will serve their community’s children as positive role models for the rest of their lives. This is a guaranteed 30- to 40-year investment.”

As part of his initiative to create 100,000 American teachers, President Bill Clinton recommended the establishment of a new American Indian Corps of Teachers–to create 1,000 Indian teachers over five years. Diné and other tribal colleges are first in line for $10 million in support of programs and scholarships.

Christina and Justina Jones are fluent Navajo speakers who plan to teach tribal language in a reservation public school that currently has only one culturally-relevant course. Educators say addressing Indian students’ cultural identity is key to building the self-esteem that is critical to academic success. “Some of our students come in, and they really don’t know their language, their culture, who they are,” said Christina. “With a Navajo teacher, they will learn more about themselves and learn more in school.”

The Jones sisters also have served in the AmeriCorps, part of the Corporation for National Service. They tutored fourth-grade students and helped build reservation housing in Round Rock, where half the homes have no indoor plumbing and unemployment is 65 percent. “The community these students come from is somewhat forgotten in terms of education,” said Barney. “Elementary students are bused in to the public school, and the teachers and the system providing their education don’t necessarily know or relate to their needs. It’s important they see someone in the classroom who relates to them and who will fight for them.”

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