New Program At Epic Aims To Revitalize Endangered Native Languages

by Jensen McKey

Culture and language are connected; it’s nearly impossible to separate the two. 

Language revitalization and cultural revitalization go hand in hand. Because of this, Epic Charter Schools has piloted a new world language program focused on revitalization instead of preservation.

“When you preserve something, it’s just kind of to keep it from going bad. And so revitalization is to really bring it back into usage,” said Kevin Roberts-Fields, who oversees the instruction. 

Roberts-Fields is a Muscogee (Creek) language teacher and the Native languages coordinator for Epic. He is teaching the new Muscogee (Creek) language program for high school students. This is the first version of the program being piloted, but more are soon to follow. 

The plan is to partner with tribes to expand the program and the languages offered. Additional tribes are already on board, Roberts-Fields said.

Instruction could take various forms already familiar to Epic students. 

An asynchronous model would need a tribe to have a digital platform, but students wouldn’t have to meet in person, so it would work better for students with busy schedules. 

The schoolhouse model would involve multiple students meeting in person and would work well for students who need more structured learning.

The immersion model would be site-based, so students would come in and learn face-to-face for the entire day, instead of just for a few hours.

The hope is to offer all models of learning, to suit every student’s needs and allow the program, and the students in it, to grow.

Epic Superintendent Bart Banfield, who first suggested the program, was insistent that Epic play a role in bringing back Native American languages — and, as a result, Native American culture.

“The focus is on language revitalization and, as a byproduct, you know, cultural revitalization,” Roberts-Fields said.

Students meet over Zoom three times a week, where they learn about the language and practice it with their peers and teachers.

The classes begin with a slideshow, and then students discuss what they learned or review material from the last class. The classes build on each other, and everything students do is for a reason. The program currently has six students, all in high school, taking the class for world language credit. 

Jennifer Treviño is a 15-year-old Seminole Creek student in the program.

“It was a lot of repetition, and just practicing, to get a feel on how to say things,” she said. “And it was a lot of help having someone who didn’t make you feel discouraged when you got something wrong. That was something that I was a little worried about going into the class, wondering if my teacher was going to be discouraging or make me feel discouraged.”

She said learning Muscogee (Creek) is challenging, but anything new and worthwhile will be challenging.  

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