The Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s new centralized learning facility — the Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht Campus — welcomes students for the first time Wednesday.
The campus, whose name means “The Kenai River People’s Learning Place” in Dena’ina, will offer instruction for students in toddler programming, preschool courses and after-school programs for K-12 students.
On Thursday, the tribe hosted a grand opening for the new facility, which is located near the intersection of the Kenai Spur Highway and Forest Drive.
The opening celebration kicked off with a blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony led by six of the seven members of the Tribal Council: Chairperson Bernadine Atchison, Vice Chairperson Mary Ann Mills, Secretary Ronette Stanton, Treasurer Diana Zirul and Members Liisia Blizzard and Virginia Wolf.
Attendees were then welcomed inside the building for the first time and led on guided tours of the facility.
The tour included every major space in the large building, starting with the dining hall, out into the playground behind the building, through the toddler classrooms, the library, the preschool classrooms, and upstairs to the classrooms for the K-12 and a few post-secondary students, then concluding in the large gathering space.
Sara Battiest, a lead member of the staff for the K-12 programs who gave a guided tour of the facility, said programs will be largely split between a Head Start model, serving pregnant mothers and children from birth to the age of 5, and an after-school K-12 program.
Battiest led guests on the standardized tour route, providing insight on the features and functions of the facility.
The birth-to-5 program is further split into toddler and preschool, with five classrooms each on the first floor. These courses will be held during the day.
Toddlers will receive Early Head Start curriculum, and stay with the same teacher until they enter preschool. Preschoolers will experience a combination of Head Start and Alaska Native Education.
The K-12 programs will focus almost entirely on language and culture. The Dena’ina Language Institute is heavily involved, working toward education and preservation of the language, Battiest said.
A member of the institute explained during the tour that they have been instructing staff at the facility, so that they can teach the students. The culture component includes topics like harvesting and preparing traditional food, making art, using traditional equipment and tools and practicing tribal archaeology. Students will also participate in drumming, dancing and the Native Youth Olympics.
Staff for the K-12 programs are already integrated into local schools, so those staff will come with the students back to the campus after school.
On the tour, Battiest stated that all of the programs are currently full, with wait lists already in progress. Eighty kids are enrolled in the K-12, and around 125 are in the birth to 5.
Some post-secondary assistance will be offered as well, with one example given being assistance with scholarship applications.
A library at the campus features books written in Dena’ina.
A large outdoor space behind the building features an awning for outdoor classes, several playground structures, and a birch bark canoe and kayak.
A large gathering space, which fills the entire right side of the building, will serve as a multipurpose area and be used to host youth olympics and dance programs, among other events. A large balcony encircles the entire space from the second floor.
Behind the gathering space is a classroom designated for cultural learning with features such as drains that would host demonstrations of things like fish filleting. This room is wired so that a live broadcast can be sent to other areas of the campus.
The campus has four Zono sanitizing machines, which look something like large refrigerators that can be filled with toys and supplies from the classrooms and sanitize everything in 30 minutes.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.