"Lakota class doesn't have a teacher anymore," Andrew, a sophomore, said. "I almost cried."
Just two days before classes were to restart, the teacher of the Lakota Sioux Language and Culture class resigned for personal reasons.
"It's a resignation that occurred just before the beginning of this semester for students, so it was a surprise to the school and to the students," John Youngquist, principal of East High School, said.
Initially, students like Andrew were told they had to switch to another class until they begged Youngquist for a change to keep their class going.
"Me and a couple of my friends didn't want to change the schedule because this is part of our family," Anna Armijo, another sophomore, said.
Anna is one of several students enrolled in the class that are Native American. She says the opportunity to take this class is unique in Denver and across Colorado.
"It's really important to us native people cause a lot of us don't know our languages," Anna said. "We would like to know it, so we can keep it going because it is dying."
Andrew is not a Native American, but he says this class is an important part of studying our country's history.
"Learning a language teaches you a lot about culture," he said. "In a particular way, it's like a more intimate kind of way to learn about that culture."
Without a teacher, students have been leading their own studies for the past week. A school security guard who is Native American is helping them. A licensed Spanish teacher is also present to help supervise the students. But they need a credentialed teacher who can speak and write Lakota Sioux.
"Basically, we're just doing everything we can to try to keep it going and it's going to be tough, but you never know if you don't try," Andrew said.
The students are appealing to local Native American groups and universities to try to find a teacher. The students are under a time deadline. If they don't find someone by next week, students may either be forced to switch classes or their class may be turned into a culture class without any language instruction.
"The time constraint relates to, we want to make sure our students have a course that they can gain graduation for," Youngquist said.
"We understand because there's not that many people that can speak it and has a license to teach it," Anna said.
Youngquist says, although it is not preferable, he can hire someone without a teacher's license. He would just have to place another licensed, language teacher in the room to supervise the lessons. But he says he does want to help students who are passionate about their subject.
"You have to tap into it and allow that to really resonate," Youngquist said. "These are students that care so very much. You see it in their hearts."
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