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Cathy Merasty, the newly-hired co-ordinator of the bi-lingual program, said recently the innovative program should eventually give Red Earth school children "something to be proud of - an identity and the language that is theirs."
The idea of providing instruction in both Cree and English has been developed in Manitoba where the department of education there initiated the Manitoba native bilingual program pilot project five years ago. There were six Manitoba schools which took part in the project.
The Manitoba project was evaluated in Jan. 1975 by Ken Horton, a teacher and graduate student of the University of Manitoba. And although Horton's subsequent report concludes that after four years it was premature to speculate just how well the children involved would progress in their future school careers, positive results were significant enough to point to a highly improved academic success rate for native students.
According to Merasty, most Indian students entering school experience failure rather than immediate success, because the children are not as familiar with the language of instruction - English - as they are with their native language - at Red Earth, Cree.
Under the proposed program, the language of instruction will be gradually shifted from Cree to English, during the kindergarten to Grade 3 period.
Apart from teaching the students to read and write in their native tongue the program should make it easy to develop a cultural awareness of two social systems and an ability to function in the two cultures, Merasty said.
With eight years of teaching experience behind her, Merasty, a member of the Peter Ballantyne band at Pelican Narrows in northeastern Saskatchewan, has a big job ahead of her.
Her main tasks will be:
Throughout the program, the Red Earth school, about 120 miles northeast of Prince Albert, will be calling on the services and expertise of local reserve people, and employees and students of the Indian Cultural College in Saskatoon.
The program planning committee has already visited the Cross Lake school in Manitoba where its bilingual program is now in full swing.