New Minn. school preserving languages

ST. PAUL, Minn – A first of its kind child care center will soon open on St. Paul's east side, as two early childhood Montessori schools team up with the goal of preserving language.

Inside Hope Lutheran Church off of Ivy Avenue, the American Indian Montessori School will focus on embedding the Ojibwe and Lakota languages in early childhood education. A second school, Hmoob Toj Siab Montessori Academy, started by the Hmong American Partnership, will similarly incorporate the Hmong language into its curriculum.

The grand opening is a longtime vision of Janice LaFloe, a Twin Cities American Indian community advocate, who grew up on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

"In the early years is when you establish your mother tongue. And if we truly want to revitalize the language we have to expose our child to the language when they are young," said LaFloe, who says she only speaks conversationally because parents didn't teach her the language when she was young.

When her youngest son went through a Montessori school, she realized the style of learning blended with cultural values and would instill confidence in American Indian youth. She approached the Bush Foundation with her idea and was awarded a Bush Leadership Fellowship to make her vision a reality. In the search for a space, she partnered with the Hmong American Partnership to open two schools.

"Teen suicide is a horrible thing in my community, and this is my contribution to counter that," said LaFloe. "So I think of it as the next level of adaptation for the Indian community, to launch us into what has been called the seventh generation. We do things with the intent of understanding of how it will affect the next seven generations and when you think about what you do with children, that's the future. The Indian community will have a very different future if we can't help our children learn to thrive."

LaFloe said both schools are going through the licensing process with the city of St. Paul and hope to begin enrolling students ages 3 to 6 later this fall.

LaFloe worked hard to raise money through several community grants and received a large matching grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Her hope is to develop a nationwide early childhood model for other American Indian cultures. Students will be taught by native speakers and the school will focus on enrolling students from low income families to provide them opportunity.

"That knowledge is there, but we have to transfer it and share it with our children and we have to hurry up because once it's gone, it's gone," she said.


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