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Baraboo High School to offer Ho-Chunk language course

December 20, 2018

Students in the Baraboo School District will be offered the chance to learn the Ho-Chunk language in a new course starting next school year.

“We’re really excited about bringing in another language, Ho-Chunk language,” Baraboo High School Principal Glenn Bildsten said. “We’ve been talking about this for a number of years.”

Bildsten and director of teaching Nick Karls presented the proposed course along with three others during the Dec. 10 school board meeting. Board members unanimously approved the 2019-20 course proposals.

Karls said administrators heard “pretty clear feedback” during student exit interviews last year that Ho-Chunk language was a course many wished they could have taken. It’s currently taught in the Tomah, Wisconsin Dells and Black River Falls school districts.

“I know we already have an enthusiastic group of students looking forward to this course, especially in our indigenous club,” Bildsten said.

Angel Logan, 16, and Destina Warner, 17, who are both Ho-Chunk and members of Baraboo High School’s Indigenous Students United club, said they speak some of the language already, though it’s difficult to find fluent speakers.

“They’re all elders,” Warner said. “Our language is kind of dying. … Just like many other languages throughout the country, really. That’s the truth of it. Our culture is dying; our heritage is dying.”

She noted most of the indigenous club’s members know fewer than five Ho-Chunk words, “which is the sad part.”

As a new generation, Warner said it’s “our job to revive it. And so I think it’s a really good idea that they’re bringing this to Baraboo.” She wishes the district had offered it sooner, however, as she’ll graduate by the end of this year.

Logan is looking forward to taking the class next year and learning how to pronounce more words.

“(I) hope it turns out to be good, and hopefully it stays,” Logan said. “And I hope other students will like it, too.”

Bildsten said the school will try to build awareness about the new classes next semester, including by bringing in speakers for the indigenous club and offering opportunities for students who sign up for the class to learn more about Ho-Chunk culture.

An American Indian Language Revitalization grant is covering the cost of the Hoocak I (Ho-Chunk) course and requires the school to fulfill certain obligations by the end of the 2018-19 school year, Bildsten said. Baraboo High School already hosted a Ho-Chunk cultural event this semester, and further activities next semester could include bringing in guest speakers to talk about Ho-Chunk culture or implementing a diversity week.

The local Ho-Chunk community, students and others asked the district to offer the course, according to information included in the Dec. 10 school board packet. Baraboo will join Tomah and the Dells in their consortium, which provides the instructor and curriculum.

School board member Nancy Thome asked if district leaders plan to eventually phase in a second- and third-level Ho-Chunk language class. Karls said they may have the opportunity do that, depending on student interest and the instructor’s schedule.

“It’s something we’ll have to pay attention to,” he said.

Next year, the Baraboo School District also will offer Dairy Food Science, Wisconsin Fish & Aquaculture and Fundamentals to Speech Communications 111. The communications course will provide dual credit through the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The cost of adding all four new courses is $12,100, some of which could be covered by a federal grant. Karls noted the cost is significantly less than previous years, when new courses reached more than $20,000.

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