All hands on deck to help virtual learners on Navajo Nation

Virus Outbreak Navajo Nation
Posted at 4:00 AM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 08:18:03-05

NAVAJO NATION, AZ — The beauty of the Navajo Nation is spread out over 25,000 square miles — an area roughly the same size as West Virginia. It's home to more than 170,000 people — many of those who are living without the resources a lot of us take for granted.

"It was very hard," explains Tuba City Elementary teacher Kayli Nockideneh. "It was very stressful."

"Whatever comes our way, we were able to adapt to it," she explains. "We try our best to work around it. We still are. That's our biggest strength I see throughout our reservation."

Nockideneh is talking about what it was like in the early days of virtual learning on the Navajo Nation, where roughly half of all homes do not have internet access, making virtual learning nearly impossible.

And it wasn't just hard on the students.

"A lot of the teachers too, they live in places where their connection isn't that great so we were given assignments every week to record ourselves and then post it to the school website."

To make matters worse, with cell service spotty on the Navajo Nation, the district says for some students, hot spots weren't even an option and paper packets took the place of computers.

According to the Tuba City Unified School District, 85% of the district's 1,550 students are currently attending classes in person. The other 15% are virtual. For Superintendent Dr. Terry Maurer, it means keeping in close contact with those Navajo families to make sure they have all the resources they need.

"Everyone is willing to help," explains Dr. Maurer. "Whether it's the chapter house, whether it's the council delegates. That's the one that thing --there are those helping hands. What is not there is the long-term infrastructure projects that could make a difference."

On the Navajo Nation, roughly 30-40% of homes do not have running water, according to a July 2020 interview with Navajo President Jonathan Nez. And currently, roughly 25% of homes do not have electricity, according to KNAU.

But Tuba City Elementary principal Sophia Begody says one thing they have more than enough of on the reservation is resilience.