Semillas has successfully developed and implemented a curriculum in Nahuatl language and indigenous culture that includes pedagogy, methodologies, mathematics, social practices and instructional materials. This repertoire has been shared with Native educators across the continent and has been seen as an innovative paradigm for Native schooling internationally. Educators in Mexico as well as in Native American communities in the United States have called on Semillas for professional exchange including the Agradable Compromiso in Mexico City and the proposed Native American Charter School Association in New Mexico.
Although Los Angeles is the city with the largest population of Indigenous People, Semillas is the only school in LAUSD that teaches a Native American language, Nahuatl being the largest spoken indigenous language of the Americas. Our students learn to think in Nahuatl, study Native Mexican mathematics, and practice Indigenous visual and performing arts through our program. The instruction of this mother language motivates students from disadvantaged families in East Los Angeles to strive for intellectual rigor, as it is a culturally relevant practice, instilling honor in the students. Moreover, recent surveys conducted in LAUSD’s Belmont High School learning complex indicate that up to 14% of students speak Nahuatl at home, while up to 26% of students attending adult school in the Mid-City Los Angeles area report they speak Nahuatl at home. Such studies in local high school complexes would also indicate high levels of Nahuatl maintenance. As such, there is a significant student population in Los Angeles that shares the Nahuatl culture and language.
The importance of Indigenous language regeneration is a central tenet to Semillas’ mission. The Semillas community has inherited Nahuatl as a mother language. Parents of Semillas students reaffirmed the importance of teaching and learning Nahuatl in school through various means, most notably, through a plebiscite conducted on May 30, 2006. Nahuatl is a group of related languages and dialects of the Aztecan branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family which is indigenous to Mesoamerica and is spoken by around 1.4 million people in Central Mexico. Further, the Nahuatl languages are related to the other Uto-Aztecan languages spoken by peoples such as the Hopi, Comanche, Paiute and Ute, Pima, Shoshone, Tarahumara, Yaqui, Tepehuán, Huichol and other peoples of western North America. They all belong to the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family which is one of the largest and best studied language families of the Americas consisting of at least 61 individual languages, and spoken from the United States to El Salvador.
Danza Azteca-Chichimeca is an intense martial form of cultural dance, which has survived colonization, and cultural domination through the popular practices of Indigenous Peoples throughout Aztec ancestral lands. The rhythms, patterns, music, histories and math of these dances enhance the individual’s experience as a part of a dance circle collective. Danza Azteca provides both a curriculum and a pathway for personal and intellectual development among our students. Importantly, this rich tradition is practiced by our families and reinforced through the school’s cultural essential agreements. Danza Azteca refers to the fellowship among cultural dancers as well as the dances and community celebrations themselves. Through Danza Azteca our students, parents and educators also build relations with other indigenous communities and Peoples. Semillas is proud to be one of the few schools that offer this rich knowledge system through its curriculum and community and regularly receives invitations for cultural exchange.
The Nepohualtzintzin is an ancestral tool for mathematical computation built upon the base-20 mathematical knowledge system common in Indigenous America before European arrival. This knowledge system is memorialized by an abacus-type instrument which functions as a mnemonic device which records place value, and functions as a calculator for basic and complex mathematics including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and square root operations. As a calculating tool used primarily in parts of Mexico and Central America for performing arithmetic processes, it was originally constructed of jade beadwork. Today, the Nepohualtzintzin is mostly constructed of a plastic frame with plastic corn-shaped beads flipping on wires similar to the modern binary computational system used by personal computers. The Nepohualtzintzin was in use concurrently with a written numeral system common in pre-Cuauhtemocian America. However, the Nepohualtzintzin is not simply a numeric device as it also records significant cultural wisdom through the symbolism of numbers, numeric relationships and calendric cycles.
Yahualoqueh Cuahuihuiyoque, or the Circle of the Feathered Heads, is a leadership development curriculum through which Semillas students can enhance their natural abilities and engage in the practice of cultural diplomacy. The Consejo de Danza Azteca of the Community Danza Circle of Anahuacalmecac - Xinaxcalmecac, proposed the organization of this circle as a path for intensive cultural knowledge development centered upon Danza Azteca and Nahuatl oral tradition. MYP teachers select students to participate based upon five criteria for this honor: Skill and potential in Danza Azteca as demonstrated in Physical Education classes; Academic strength (all participants must keep above a ‘3’ average); Demonstrated leadership skills; Demonstrated strength in Nahuatl (all students must maintain a ‘4’ in Nahuatl after nomination; The student’s will to participate in the extracurricular training, discipline and community presentations of the Circle.
Cuahuihuiyoh means “the feathered heads”. Today, we call the feathers a dancer wears a headdress. To wear a headdress is something of great honor. Indigenous ancestors considered those who wore headdresses special people to the community because they carried deep in their hearts the best intentions and best thoughts for the People. Our ancestors would say, “They are eagles, they are jaguars.” The children in whom this Good Way will be entrusted are of great importance to our families and communities. These young leaders will develop a greater sense of respect in their hearts and in their memories with which to stay on this Good Way for the rest of their lives. These young people will learn the value of organization that is community-based. These young ambassadors serve to represent our school and community in various capacities including the Indigenous Student Cultural Exchange with China held last academic year and the Model United Nations Conference to be held in Los Angeles this year.