Holbrook Indian School: Valuing Native American Culture

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In 2021, Holbrook Indian School began its 75th year of serving Native American children and youth. The school has an average of 100 students enrolled in first through twelfth grades. Although the majority are from the Navajo Reservation, many tribes have been represented throughout the school’s history.

Holbrook uses a wholistic approach to education called MAPS, an acronym for mental, academic/artistic, physical, and spiritual wellness, representing the core pillars of education at Holbrook that help make students successful. The last five years have focused particularly on developing school facilities and programs to better serve the students. The past year has presented COVID-19-related challenges, and both creativity and faith have been needed to help students thrive.

In January of 2016, junior high and high school students began attending classes in a refurbished building on campus known as the Education Center. During the same year, the administration increased efforts to improve and maintain all staff housing and buildings on campus. In 2019, the school purchased a home across from the Holbrook campus, with the intention to renovate the property and use it for enhancing existing school programs. As mobile homes purchased or donated through the years became derelict, the need for staff housing grew to a critical point in late 2019. Providentially, a surgeon from Ukiah, California, volunteered to help build two triplex units. In 2020, fundraising for the project began, and plans were developed. The first triplex is nearing completion, and the second is well on its way.

Programs have also continued to grow. Of special note recently are agriculture, counseling, the summer program, indigenous history and art classes, and the music program. The agriculture program serves more than 100 families in local communities, and produce grown on the farm is a staple at cafeteria meals. A licensed clinical counselor was hired in 2016 to provide on-site, Christian-based trauma counseling services to Holbrook students, and a second counselor began working specifically with the female population on abuse issues in 2018. In 2021, a MAPS coordinator position was added to the counseling team.

The summer program is now in its fifth year, with an average of 20 students attending. Holbrook values Native American culture by offering classes in Navajo language, government, and history. In 2018, an indigenous arts class was added to the pottery program. The music program was re-established during the 2019/2020 school year and includes a choir and band.

COVID-19 was just gaining media attention in Arizona when HIS began its spring break during the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year. Immediately following the students’ departure, the reservation locked down, travel was restricted, and all Arizona schools closed. Holbrook students participated in remote learning for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. On August 17th, the campus re-opened with COVID-19 precautions in place, and it remained open throughout the rest of the year. In the spring of 2020, strategies were put in place to counteract the effect the pandemic would have on funding. The 2020/2021 school year ended ahead of goal, and the endowment more than tripled from about $600,000 to about $2,200,000. The pandemic had both positive and negative impacts on Holbrook students. Many students became homesick because they could not go home for weekends, and they left campus for remote learning. Several, however, stayed on campus and consequently made decisions for baptism, ending the year with 26 new followers of Christ.
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Pedro Ojeda is the principal of Holbrook Indian School.