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Tribe makes $100,000 donation to Freedom School

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AKWESASNE - The Akwesasne Freedom School received a $100,000 donation from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council this week.

A school official said the funds will go toward moving the institution into a new building, paying for much-needed maintenance on the current building and funding lunch programs and increased custodial services.

“This is a huge morale boost here at the school,” Okiokwinon Francis, the school’s office manager, said. “It lets us know they (tribal government) do care about us and they want us to stay [in Akwesasne].”

According to Ms. Francis, they have been trying to move to a new building on state Route 37 near the Fort Covington town line for almost two decades and the donation will bring them a step closer. She said since the school is funded only by tuition and donations they have had to walk a fine line between “paying for that building and maintaining this one.”

According to the school’s administrative assistant and bookkeeper, Sheila King, the 2012-13 operating budget is $400,000. Ms. Francis also noted that the building is being built mainly by students’ parents that have the relevant skills, and the building materials are mostly donated. She said anyone who wishes to give to the project can contact the school.

Ms. Francis said part of the tribe’s donation will pay for a roof repairs at the school’s current home.

Part of the money will also go toward paying for a hot lunch program, Ms. Francis said. Some could also help up the cleaner’s allotted hours, who currently works one day each week.

The Akwesasne Freedom School teaches an immersion curriculum in Mohawk language and culture. Students and teachers speak only in Kanienkeh (Mohawk) and attend school year-round.

Ms. Francis said this is to teach them their culture’s traditional ways, which revolve around the Earth and its seasons. The students learn traditional ceremonies and the meaning behind them and also get the chance to see the environment and how it changes throughout the year.

“We’re really rooted in cultural revitalization and teaching our culture to our kids,” Ms. Francis said.

The school currently has 48 pupils in grades pre-K through 8, with the majority of them between ages 6 and 8, according to Ms. Francis.

Studies have shown that children are more apt to learn and retain multiple languages at younger ages and Ms. Francis said by the time they reach grades 5 and 6 they are fluent in their ancestral tongue.

The Freedom School was founded in the late 1970s by Ron LaFrance Sr., who is current Chief Ron LaFrance Jr.’s father. The tribal leader attended the school, as did Sub-Chief Eric Thompson, whom Ms. Francis said was instrumental in securing the donation. She said the sub-chief put in requests to various tribal departments asking for money to give to the school.

“They all agreed ... we needed that extra funding,” Ms. Francis said.

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