They called her Miss Laura.

It was a term of reverence and resonance, befitting the quiet power of what one person could teach a community.

Laura Escalanti’s wisdom was imparted in classrooms through the strength of the Tewa language, said former students and northern pueblo community members who added that her time as a Spanish and Tewa teacher in the Pojoaque Valley School District can never be replicated.

Perhaps that’s why this has been one of the saddest weeks in a very sad year for those who knew her.

Escalanti, who spent 20 years as a teacher, imprinting the importance of culture on students in their formative years, died suddenly Nov. 21 of COVID-19 complications at Los Alamos Medical Center, said her daughter, Tree Escalanti.

Laura Escalanti was 69.

A beloved teacher who helped many Native American students connect with their culture through the Tewa language, Laura Escalanti’s contribution was critical in a school district that includes students from six pueblos.

“We lost a treasure,” said Joe Talachy, governor of Pojoaque Pueblo. “People like her are invaluable. It’s hard to find people with that kind of ambition, that kind of charisma and character that really gets through to our youth.”

Tree Escalanti said the community’s respect for her mother was never clearer than during a funeral procession from San Juan Pueblo to the church near her home in San Ildefenso Pueblo on Monday. Her body was accompanied by a police escort led by Talachy, with mourners standing on the shoulder of the roadway to honor a woman many in the community had known for years.

“It was just so amazing,” Tree said. “A lot of her students were lined up on the highway, there were staff [members from Pojoaque Valley middle and high schools], people from the community clapping for us. It was really amazing to see that.”

Tiffany Duran, who took Laura Escalanti’s Tewa class while she was in middle school in 2002, said she recalled the Friday feast days the teacher would hold, during which students wore their traditional clothing.

Laura Escalanti, Duran said, taught kids about their community’s culture through their language.

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