Boise’s Basque Preschool thrives and expands into a new home

The Basque language, or Euskara, is spoken by only about 850,000 people worldwide. It’s a language without known linguistic relatives. But in Boise, Euskara is alive and well, partly because of Boiseko Ikastola, Boise’s Basque preschool.

A group of Boise families of Basque origin, including Nerea Lete and Chris Bieter, James Sangroniz, Cathy Doherty and Janice Mainvil, wanted their young children to learn Euskara. They founded the school in 1998, said Patty Miller, director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which oversees the school.

Today, most of Boiseko Ikastola’s 23 students are from Basque families, but the school is open to children of all ethnic backgrounds.

Boiseko Ikastola is the only Basque immersion preschool outside the Basque Country, Miller said. The school recently celebrated a milestone. It left its longtime home at St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center at Boise State and moved into its own building, a brick house at 1955 S. Broadway Ave. purchased by the museum.

The Basque government has helped support the school through grants.

“For them, the school in Boise is a flame of a little match out in the greater world, trying to keep the language alive,” Miller said. “For students, the school could be their first exposure to Basque culture. And that could grow into a lifetime of Basque culture.”

That was true for Jill Kaltenecker, 20, an alumna of Boiseko Ikastola’s first class. Kaltenecker is half Basque, on her mother’s side.

“But my immersion in the Basque culture is 100 percent,” said Kaltenecker, a nursing student at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

She began Basque dancing at the age of 4, around the same time she enrolled in Basque preschool. She’s retained some of the language she learned at Boiseko Ikastola. That’s been useful during trips to the Basque Country.

“The families that started the school were very close. My best friend for my whole life, we went through Ikastola together. We cemented our friendship. And I still know the kids I was in class with,” Kaltenecker said.

“It was amazing that they started the preschool here. It’s invaluable for a language like that, so far from the homeland.”