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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe helps Freedom School buy building

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HOGANSBURG — The Akwesasne Freedom School received a $100,000 donation last week from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. A school official said the money will go toward moving the institution into a new building, paying for much-needed maintenance on the current building, funding lunch programs and increased custodial services.

“This is a huge morale boost here at the school,” said Okiokwinon Francis, the school’s office manager. “It lets us know they (tribal government) do care about us, and they want us to stay” in Akwesasne.

According to Ms. Francis, the school has been trying to move to a new building on Route 37 near the Fort Covington town line for almost two decades, and the donation will bring it a step closer. She said because the school is funded only by tuition and donations, it has had to walk a fine line between “paying for that building and maintaining this one.”

According to the school’s administrative assistant and bookkeeper, Sheila King, the 2012-13 operating budget is $400,000. Ms. Francis also noted the building is being built mainly by students’ parents who have the relevant skills, and the building materials are mostly donated. She said anyone who wishes to give to the project can contact the school.

Ms. Francis said part of the tribe’s donation will pay for roof repairs at the school’s current home.

The grant also will go toward paying for a hot lunch program, Ms. Francis said, and could help increase the cleaner’s allotted hours, now one day each week.

The Akwesasne Freedom School teaches an immersion curriculum in Mohawk language and culture. Students and teachers speak only in Kanienkeh, or Mohawk, and attend school year round. Ms. Francis said that is to teach them their culture’s traditional ways, which revolve around the Earth and its seasons. The students learn traditional ceremonies and the meaning behind them and also get a chance to see the environment and how it changes throughout the year.

The school has 48 pupils in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, with the majority of them ages 6 to 8, according to Ms. Francis.

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