Lessons in Lenape

May 1—ANDERSON — As he strolled slowly around a set of tables set up in a large square, Joe Cronk stopped occasionally and greeted each of his students with a simple question, spoken in the Lenape language.

Kulamalsi hàch?

How are you? The replies came in halting voices.

Osòmi. Fine.

That was one choice the students in Cronk's Lenape Lessons class could use to let their teacher know how their day was going. The exercise was a preamble to the day's lesson, which included basic Lenape vocabulary and a discussion on clothing and accessories used by the Lenape, an Algonquin tribe which populated the area that is present-day Anderson.

"The Lenape language is a dying language," Cronk told the 15 students. "No one speaks it natively anymore."

The six-week course is being offered to fourth graders at Tenth Street Elementary School as part of Anderson Community Schools' budding partnership with the Delaware Tribe of Indians. Following the district's decision to discontinue the high school basketball pregame routine involving the school's Indian mascot and maiden, conversations with Chief Brad KillsCrow of the Delaware Tribe became centered on ways the district could create opportunities to provide updated material for course work in classes throughout the district.

Cronk's class, which is scheduled to meet each Wednesday through mid-May, is the first product of those efforts.

"Part of our agreement with the Delaware Tribe, when we were talking about mascots and community history, was that we would promote authentic history of the Anderson area," Cronk said after the class was dismissed. "It's important that they learn what the authentic history is."

Cronk said he began studying material for the course about a year ago. He said that standards put forth by the Indiana Department of Education mandate course work on the state's history starting in fourth grade. The Lenape Lessons course, he noted, accomplishes two elements of those standards.

"We're covering Native Americans in Indiana, and then we're doing a historic language preservation unit, which is why I'm trying to teach them Lanape. There's a tie there," he said.

Tenth Street Elementary students were selected for the course by school administrators who consulted with teachers in choosing those who they believe "have those open minds, who will stay with it," according to principal D.J. Suchocki.

"This (program) is something that's going to get bigger, and we wanted to make sure that we can plant a seed," Suchocki said.

While sitting in on some of the classes, Suchocki said he's picked up some knowledge himself.

"To learn this stuff has been very interesting," he said. "The cultural exposure that's connected with our city, it's been interesting to hear it. The kids are like a sponge. They'll remember stuff that we would say, I'm going to forget that. They look forward each week coming here and being part of this."

For Cronk, teaching the class has provided an additional benefit. As the district's superintendent, he's had the chance to step back into the classroom and connect directly with students while being reminded of the challenges their teachers face daily.

"It's nice getting back with the kids and seeing firsthand what the kids do, what the kids have to go through, what the kids' lives are," Cronk said. "That immensely helps keep in touch with what our teachers have to deal with on a daily basis."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.