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Students settled into UAIC Tribal School

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal Staff Writer
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The next generation of the United Auburn Indian Community has a place all their own. The tribe's children have settled in quite nicely during their first full school year at the United Auburn Indian Community Tribal School, a new facility sitting above stunning valley views on Indian Hill Road at Auburn Folsom Road. The tribe, which owns the Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, purchased the Indian Hill Road property in 2006 to house a learning center and government offices. Greg Baker, tribal administrator, said he's been talking shop, or school, with tribal members since 2003. Education is a big deal for the tribe, from the get go, he said. Baker and the tribe sought out top Indian educators and established a culturally relevant K-12 curriculum for the learning center, which catered to roughly 50 students at the tribe's Rocklin offices while the Indian Hill campus was under construction. The learning center is in its second year, but finishing out its first year at the new four-building campus, which also houses governmental offices and an adult education program. Baker said officials treat the school like a private, preparatory school and one that will really give a boost to the tribe's 175 children. The curriculum was probably the most important piece, because if you have a great curriculum you can teach it out of a trunk, but luckily we have these wonderful facilities, Baker said. Being up here is important because we are literally right across the street from the tribal historical land. Doug Elmets, tribal spokesman, said there's a real emphasis on Native American history and culture at the school. Until now, we didn't have a cultural connection, he said. Prior to this getting built, most of the tribal members were just getting by. So when you're just getting by, you don't focus on the culture. Now they have the resources to do that. Dr. Sandra Fox, an educational consultant, said it was important to parents and tribal members that the school teach everything which every other student in California learns, but in addition, that the school's curriculum and services offered students more than what they might find in public education. We can do what the research has said all along, what's needed for Indian children, she said during a recent visit to the school. We're more holistic, we're more linear. Here we focus on strengths. Victoria, a junior in high school and the student body president, came to the tribal school as a sophomore and said she's already learned so much about her Native American culture. School officials asked, for privacy reasons, that the full names of students not be given. The new campus is nice, Victoria said, but it's not the best part about the school. It's not even about where we are ” it's about the idea, she said. It's the stuff we get to learn and the stuff we get to do. It's so we can lead our tribe and have a future. Everything we get to do here, it's about being Native American. Jennifer Villanueva teaches first and second grades. I think it's a remarkable setting because of all the resources they're able to offer the children of the community, she said. It's nice to be able to integrate the cultural curriculum with the educational curriculum. I think it supports the needs of the community. It really keeps the culture alive for the younger generation and it helps them be proud of it. Carol Sharp, principal of the elementary program, said the school strives to support its students academically, emotionally and socially. There is an emphasis on giving back, locally and beyond, she said, and a focus on addressing each student's needs. This is a dream. This is what every school should have, she said. This school is a family. We're all moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and we're all guiding our children. It is a family, and the school is a part of that. The Journal's Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment.