Incorporating students' home language and culture into classroom instruction

Dimensions: Equity pedagogy; knowledge construction; empowering school culture and social structure

Title and Location:
The Hualapai Bilingual/Bicultural Education Program (HBBEP)
Peach Springs, Arizona

Contact Information:
Lucille J. Watahomigie, Principal
PO Box 360
Peach Springs, AZ 86434-0360


Program History and Description

The Hualapai Bilingual/Bicultural Education Program (HBBEP) began in 1975 when a linguist, Akira Yamamoto, began to learn and document the Hualapai language and culture with the intent to produce materials that could be used to help children maintain their home language (Watahomigie & Yamamoto, 1987). The program started with a three-year grant from Title VII, the Bilingual Education Act, to develop an orthography, a dictionary, and instructional materials in Hualapai. Over the next three years, (1978-1980) the Hualapai Social Studies Curriculum Guide, a Language Arts Curriculum Guide, the Hualapai Reference Grammar and other readers and books about the local area were produced and staff training provided.

Participants in the first workshop developed lists of characteristics of the community members and other community resources. They identified Hualapai characteristic ways of teaching and learning that became the basis for developing curricula, materials, educational goals, a school philosophy, and instructional practices (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994). Community needs assessments were administered, and parents and elders were asked to evaluate the program as well as discuss their views on education. As the program developed, community support increased, and within five years, the program was an integral part of the Peach Spring school (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994).

Content is presented in both English and Hualapai, focuses on understanding the local Hualapai community and environment, and uses a concurrent approach to bilingual education, where central concepts, vocabulary, language patterns and skills are developed and reinforced in both languages.

Program Components

Primary Goals

The primary goals of the Hualapai Bilingual/Bicultural Education Program include: 1) developing bilingual/bicultural graduates, 2) assisting students to develop a valued identity as a Hualapai, and 3) helping students gain skills that assist them in life-long learning.

Instructional Strategies and Materials

The curricula were developed in the community and reinforce concepts and values fundamental to students' home and community experiences, while meeting local, state, and federal educational requirements and expectations (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994). The HBBEP uses culturally compatible instructional strategies. Content is presented in both English and Hualapai, focuses on understanding the local Hualapai community and environment, and uses a concurrent approach to bilingual education, where central concepts, vocabulary, language patterns and skills are developed and reinforced in both languages. Locally generated by staff and students, program materials are based on Hualapai values and traditions, are in Hualapai and English, and link Hualapai culture to technology. According to Watahomigie and McCarty (1994), instructional units developed by the staff include "local plant and animal life and Hualapai narratives" (p. 35). Material projects were funded to produce integrated curricula materials that are authentic and of equal quality to the English language materials. Students' improved attendance has been attributed to curricula materials that reflected the students language and culture (McCarty, 1994). Content is presented in both English and Hualapai, focuses on understanding the local Hualapai community and environment, and uses a concurrent approach to bilingual education, where central concepts, vocabulary, language patterns and skills are developed and reinforced in both languages.

A wide-range of educators have been involved in the development and maintenance of the program. Experts from the community, elders, and outside specialists (e.g., researchers, linguists, bilingual educators, and curriculum consultants) have contributed to the development of the HBBEP. The community takes pride in their homegrown educators--teachers and teaching assistants who were raised in the community and have worked to earn degrees. These educators are reported to be especially committed to the school and community and provide long-term stability to the program (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994).

Workshops and staff development projects are the central core of the HBBEP. The program began with a workshop in which participants identified local resources and needs. Workshops in bilingual/bicultural theory and instruction, culturally and linguistically appropriate curriculum development, and process-oriented biliteracy approaches continue to strengthen the program (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994). Workshops have been open to faculty, administrators, parents, and staff at the school. Staff development has included support for non-certified staff to work toward certification and the development of curriculum and materials. Opportunities to participate in state-level institutes and Indian education activities have been provided.


Peach Springs is the home of most Hualapai tribal members. It is on the Hualapai Reservation in northwestern Arizona. There is one K-8 school in Peach Springs; the next nearest school is 40 miles from the reservation. Elders and the extended family system are important in the community. Hualapai language is commonly used at community gatherings and is a primary language for most children during their early socialization. The Hualapai language was not written until 1975, at the initial stage of development of the HBBEP (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994).

The population in Peach Springs is about 1,700, and 80% of the available workforce is unable to find paid employment on the reservation (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994). As Watahomigie and Yamamoto state, "The Hualapi bilingual/bicultural program is one of the major sources of employment for those living in the community" (Watahomigie & Yamamoto, 1987, p. 81). In 1994, the 36-member staff of the Peach Springs School included 6 Hualapai certified teachers, 10 non-Hualapai teachers, and 6 Hualapai instructional assistants. Enrollment in the school in the early 1990s has hovered around 220 students. Prior to 1975, the curriculum was centered around English and conventional discipline-based content. After 1975, the school became a bilingual school (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994).

Program Success

Student Achievement

After the first three years of the program (1975-1977), students were showing consistent improvement in academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. Watahomigie and McCarty (1994) report that "in 1979-1980, for example, Normal Curve Equivalent (NCE) scores on the reading subtest of the California Test of Basic Skills showed average gains of four; the following year, mean NCE gains more than doubled, increasing by 8.06" (p. 31). Between 1986 and 1989, students' mean scores on the Language Assessment Scale (a frequently used test of oral English) increased by 12 percentile points. In addition, Hualapai language competency was considered an important component of student achievement. Peach Springs educators developed the first oral language assessment for an American Indian language (McCarty, 1994. Evaluation of the program is based on the quality of authentic curricula materials, students' scores on standardized tests, teacher evaluations of students' work, parent and community support, and continuing efforts to develop and expand the program beyond Peach Springs. McCarty (1994) concludes that "program evaluation data show that the longer students remain in the program, the greater their achievement gains" (p. 30). Hualapai students complete the eighth grade and go on to high school and complete high school in greater numbers than their peers in monolingual/monocultural programs (McCarty, 1994). McCarty (1994) states that "in 1989, 100 percent of Hualapai students who had completed the eighth grade went on to graduate from high school" (p. 30).

Program Attributes

Watahomigie and Yamamoto (1992) believe that HBBEP has been successful in "reestablishing pride in Hualapai language and culture among children and adults in the community, in encouraging the active use of Hualapai and English at school and at home, in developing a body of knowledge about the language and culture, and in developing skills in teaching these materials. The program has also had a very positive influence beyond the Hualapai community by demonstrating to other Indian communities that bilingual/bicultural education programs work for Indian children (Watahomigie & Yamamoto, 1992, p. 11).

Critical program attributes include the following:

(1) The program was developed in the community. It makes use of local knowledge and provides opportunities for students and community members to share expertise and to continually grow and learn in new ways.

(2) Relatively consistent funding has allowed the vision to be long-term focused and has allowed for "development" to occur.

(3) Program administration and staff that has remained constant and supportive, so "development" and long-term goals could be accomplished.

(4) Professional development and educational opportunities for community members were provided in order to "home-grow" teaching staff and Hualapai-proficient users. This approach provided a stable teaching faculty, community support, and linguistic and cultural capitol. Opportunities to work were increased for those community members who were knowledgeable of Hualapai culture and language, thus providing instrumental purposes for biculturalism and bilingualism.

(5) Collaboration between inside and outside experts provided support and produced local ownership.

Additional Benefits

(1) HBBEP became a training program for anthropologists to learn a new type of research. Rather than the researcher remaining monolingual in English, the anthropologists and linguists working on this project worked toward bilingual/biculturalism in order to be useful to the local community. This project has led to a deeper understanding of collaborative research (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994).

2) As Watahomigie and others began this project in 1975, it became clear that they needed additional resources. They wrote a grant for a training program, the American Indian Languages Development Institute (AILDI). AILDI began the summer of 1978 with the program director of the Peach Springs program, Lucille Watahomigie, Uman language specialists, John Rouillard, an Indian educator, and 18 adults determined to learn to read and write Hualapai (McCarty, 1994). The institute grew and extended the collaborative efforts at language and cultural maintenance to many other Indian groups.

(3) The collaborative approach has led to training of local community members, and native language or multicultural requirements have become part of many teacher education programs (McCarty, 1994).

Program Replication

Respect for the culture and language of the homes and community/communities is crucial to developing a program similar to HBBEP. Writing grants for long-term funding is beneficial. Generating lists of community and student characteristics and resources is an effective starting point.


McCarty, T. L. (1994). Bilingual education policy and the empowerment of American Indian communities. The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 14, 23-41.

Watahomigie, L. J., & McCarty, T. L. (1994). Bilingual/Bicultural education at Peach Springs: A Hualapai way of schooling. Peabody Journal of Education, 69(2), 26-42.

Watahomigie, L. J. & Yamamoto, A. Y. (1992). Local reactions to language decline. Language: Journal of the linguistic society of America, 68(1), 10-17.