Char-Koosta News 

ARLEE — Nk̓ʷusm Salish Language School building and campus is presently undergoing a facelift that will expand its facility and make the school safer for its students. NSLS is located in the former Arlee bowling alley and bar building.

The remodeling and upgrades of the former bowling alley and bar area are being done in three phases. The ground floor bowling area has two levels, an upper area and a slightly lower area that included the bowling alley lanes and bowlers seating area as well as a second floor with an office and a large rectangular classroom.

The completed first phase focused on the upper level of the bowling area included construction of a new classroom. The carpet flooring was removed throughout the school and replaced with waterproof laminated plank flooring.

“We are right in the middle of phase two,” said Allen Pierre, Nk̓ʷusm cultural specialist. “It will be a long road to completion of this remodeling — this is the fourth year. The Tribes have chipped in a lot of money for this, and we have raised money through fundraising and grants.”

• The second phase is ongoing in the lower bowling alley lanes area. It includes construction of a new professional grade kitchen, a spacious dining/gathering area and new restrooms. The present kitchen has always been too small and cramped the students too close to adhere to new COVID protocols the school practices. 

COVID precautions are paramount at the school, Pierre said.

The meals are prepared off-site at the Arlee Community Center kitchen, and delivered in individual containers that are left on tables outside the classrooms. The students pick them up and eat in their classrooms.  

“COVID overshadows everything we are doing here,” Pierre said. “A lot of things in phase three require a lot of money. We are able to get a lot of the funds through COVID funding, and that helps a lot.”

There will be a new heating, ventilation and cooling system in the school with special COVID filters.

The janitorial staff deep cleans the classrooms on Friday. The classrooms are cleaned/sanitized daily between student class switches by wiping off the seats and desks, and cleaned thoroughly in the evening.

“The classrooms are set up so the students can social distance at three feet and we hand sanitize them between classes. The kids mask-up and sanitize their hands a lot,” Pierre said. “Once any of our students gets sick, they all stay home. We’ve only had to do that twice this school year.” 

During the two shutdowns, the students were provided with iPads for remote learning, and were delivered breakfast and lunch meals twice a week.

Pierre credits the low number of shutdowns due to the COVID precautions the school takes. The recent COVID vaccinations for the 5- to 11-year-old students is an example of providing a safe learning and working environment for the students and staff.

• The third phase includes: landscaping the campus; upgrading the fencing of the outdoor playground perimeter; new and/or donated playground equipment; sidewalks; new access doors with key fobs; and new windows and fire escape for the second floor. 

“We will be upgrading the (north) fencing that separates tribal housing from the playgrounds so there is no access to the school property,” Pierre said. The only playground/recreational area access will be from inside the school building. 

The Salish Kootenai Housing Authority has donated the land across the street from Nk̓ʷusm to be used as a visitor and staff parking lot, and a fenced in bull pen for Nk̓ʷusm bus fleet.

Pierre said the fenced in fleet parking lot is needed to prevent vandalism and gasoline theft.

Beyond the physical plant improvements at Nk̓ʷusm there are other wanted improvements, most prominent is the addition of high school curriculum. That was a dream of the late Pat Pierre, a founding Salish language teacher at Nk̓ʷusm

“Pat (Pierre) said his dream is to have a high school here so ‘One day when kids come here, they won’t have to go to public school. This is where the kids can find their identity that will forge who they are in life,’” Pierre said recalling his father’s words.

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