Beginning next August, kindergarten and 1st grade students from area districts could be learning Wampanoag language and culture at the Weetumuw Wôpanâak Charter School (WWCS). Submitted by the nonprofit organization, Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project—serving the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard, and the Assonet Band of the Wampanoag Nation—the application for the school was approved two weeks ago by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the second phase of the process.
“We’re very hopeful. We feel like we’ve assembled a wonderful team,” said Jennifer C. Weston, the charter developer and vice chairman of the proposed board of trustees. The chairman of the five-member board is tribe member Jessie (Little Doe) Baird, who co-founded the reclamation project in 1993.
Along with six other applicant groups, the project has submitted a prospectus to be reviewed by the department. In mid-September, the applicants with the most promise will be invited to submit full applications by November 5, following which Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester will recommend finalists to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The board will vote on those recommendations and award the final charters in February.
The application process is rigorous, Ms. Weston said, but she is grateful for the opportunity to consider potential possibilities and challenges involved in opening the school.
If approved, the charter school will accept students from 39 potential school districts in Barnstable, Bristol, Duke and Plymouth Counties, excluding some low-performing school districts in those areas. A maximum of 40 students will be accepted in the first year, hopefully expanding by one grade level each subsequent year for a total of about 100 students in grades K-5.
“It is a slow, gradual expansion process,” Ms. Weston said. “But our staff needs that time to finish training the teachers in Wôpanâak.”
According to the prospectus submitted to the state, the mission of the school is “to instill in children traditional Wampanoag language and culture, within a safe and healthy environment, in order to impart both academic excellence and a strong sense of personal and cultural pride.” Except for English language arts classes, all material will be taught in the Wôpanâak language, the traditional language of the Wampanoag people.
There is no location set for the school yet, but Ms. Weston said that the proposed board of trustees is considering two locations in Falmouth. Because they hope to attract some members of the Aquinnah tribe from Martha’s Vineyard in addition to members of the other three tribes, she said, it may be a convenient location for those prospective students.
The reclamation project’s proposal is one of four in the 2014-15 application cycle to open commonwealth charter schools, in addition to three proposals to open Horace Mann charter schools. Commonwealth charter schools like the Weetumuw Wôpanâak Charter School are fully autonomous and operate independently of the local school district, while Horace Mann charter schools work in cooperation with the host school district and require the approval of its school committee.
Correction August 4, 2014, 4:26 PM: The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project serves four tribes.