Many Indians reside in the Sammamish area and find ways to preserve their culture and connect to their relatives. However, doing so is not always easy. Many families find it difficult to teach their kids their native language – especially when it comes to using a completely different alphabet and grammatical structure – or to immerse them in their native culture.
One Sammamish Indian couple, Renu and Sunil Grover, has found a way to connect their children with their culture through Gurukul, an Indian language, arts, and cultural education organization based in the greater Seattle area.
Gurukul is a nonprofit organization founded in 1998. The organization teaches children Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada languages as well as Indian arts and culture as part of a six-level progressive program.
Renu Grover is a Gurukul board member and the organization’s Hindi curriculum chair. She also happens to be the principal of Interlake High School, one of Gurukul’s current locations.
Grover has been volunteering with Gurukul since 2000. Prior to that, she had been teaching her children Hindi at home, but thought Gurukul would help them become “motivated to learn better and [be] a part of the larger Indian community.”
When Grover first joined Gurukul, she was in charge of the Hindi language curriculum. Then, as the number of students grew, she needed help with the workload. She also observed a growing need to align the curriculum with the community’s needs. Her role expanded to not just administering the curriculum, but helping create a standardized curriculum that could be adjusted based on the students’ response.
“It became harder to have a single person like me take charge of the entire curriculum and be responsible for not only maintaining it but also the lesson plans, books, and everything,” she explained.
As an answer to Gurukul’s expansion, the organization put in place a committee to manage the curriculum for each of its six program levels. The committee then enhanced the curriculum based on “feedback to reflect the changing needs of the community,” Grover said.
As the Hindi curriculum chair, Grover is responsible for aligning Gurukul’s Hindi curriculum with students’ needs. When she first joined, Grover observed that the curriculum emphasized reading and writing, but the spoken language component was outdated and not applicable to the students’ lives.
“What we teach in India does not quite fit with the way students are being raised here in the community,” Grover said.
Grover and her team then helped develop an updated spoken language curriculum geared towards conversational Hindi. She also worked to change the vocabulary in the curriculum to align with students’ everyday lives. Some examples include vocabulary around sports, music, and taking the bus to school.
“We wanted to help them make sentences that are relatable to their lives,” Grover said.
Grover explained that learning the Indian languages can be useful in students’ school lives as well. Gurukul prepares high school students to take standardized tests that, if passed, earn credit that suffice for their high school foreign language requirement.
Besides languages, Gurukul also teaches life skills through its Youth Board programming. Youth Board programs can be taken for up to three years and only following the completion of all six language program levels. Acceptance into the Youth Board program is based on age and prior performance in Gurukul classes.
“The purpose of the Youth Board is to continue the cultural and language experience but have a different flavor from the classroom,” said Grover’s husband and Youth Board chairman Sunil Grover.
Sunil joined Gurukul in 2000 along with his wife, primarily as Gurukul’s events photographer. Then in 2009, he helped create the Youth Board, which was originally focused on organizing community service projects. After getting zero enrollment in 2015, Sunil helped to restructure the Youth Board program to help boost future enrollment.
Today, the Youth Board offers four programs: a Toastmasters-certified public speaking program, a Gurukul language teacher’s assistant training program, a Multimedia Factory, which teaches students videography and photography, and an Associated Student Body program.
Each of these programs contains a degree of language immersion. For instance, in the Multimedia Factory program, 25 to 50 percent of what you say in your media publication must be in your target language.
“We are teaching life skills that are pertinent to a youth,” Sunil said.
Sunil hopes to increase the variety of Youth Board programs at Gurukul. In addition, he hopes to make the programs more structured and defined, as his wife has done with the language curriculum.
While both Renu and Sunil want to see Gurukul expand, they realize that growth is contingent on volunteer engagement. Gurukul is run completely by unpaid volunteers just like themselves. The family of every student is required to contribute at least 15 hours of volunteer time, which is often fulfilled by supporting events, or by serving as a teacher or committee member.
“We put our hearts and souls into this program, and it’s really rewarding to see the results of that,” Sunil said.
If you would like to learn more about Gurukul, visit their website here.