TOHAJIILEE, N.M. (KRQE) – Schools on tribal lands have long faced funding backlogs to fix up dilapidated and unsafe campuses. One Navajo Nation school near Albuquerque is no different – battling constant flooding and deteriorating classrooms, but that’s all about to change.
The risk of flooding at the To’Hajiilee Community School hardly comes as a surprise, since it was built on a floodplain back in 1935. For decades, they have dealt with constant flooding on their campus. School leaders say they’ve had to fix cracked walls in classrooms, and buses have struggled to navigate through pools of water.
“We’ve done our best to do the repairs and the patches as much as we possibly can but I think we are pretty much at a breaking point where it was really starting to impact the focus and study of the students and the teachers and the staff,” says Paulene Abeyta, Vice President of the To’Hajiilee Community School Board of Education.
Finally, relief is in sight. The community is celebrating more than $90,000,000 in federal funding to replace the old building and put it in a better location. Representative Melanie Stansbury helped lead efforts to secure the funds this past December. The school serves more than three hundred Navajo students in grades K-12.
“When they heard the news about the new school they were so excited, they were happy they were asking tons of questions. You know I think it was a little too exciting where they thought that they might be starting there the following day,” says Abeyta.
Right now, school leaders are looking at other ways the new school could be an improvement over the old one. For instance, they are considering whether to separate the elementary, middle, and high school grade levels, instead of having all grades lumped in together.
That could mean the new school would offer more jobs, including employment opportunities for tribal members returning to the community. They’re also looking at energy-efficient models. “I’m excited to see this opportunity for our community and for other Native nations to see what’s possible when you work together with tribal, state, and federal leaders,” says Abeyta.
School board leaders say they don’t have a concrete timeline but hope to have construction approvals done within the next few months.