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New SD Tribal Academy Readies for Fall Start

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Friday, August 19, 2022   

Organizers behind a new Indigenous school in western South Dakota hope they can give young Native American students a more optimal learning environment for years to come.

Mary Bowman is founder of the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy in Rapid City, which opens in September. It's starting with a kindergarten class of more than 30 students.

Bowman said Indigenous students often encounter achievement gaps, along with discipline disparities in most school settings. She said the academy wants to be a place where these students might get off to a better start after previous generations dealt with many roadblocks.

"Our school, we are really looking to address some of those things that have been harmful - with boarding schools, where they took away the language and the culture," she said.

She said they will have rigorous academics. Students also get daily lessons on the Lakota language, along with engagement opportunities with tribal elders.

Officials with the Rapid City School District have said they wish the new academy well, but note it isn't accredited yet. Bowman said they are working to achieve that status with the state.

The school's opening comes amid tense debate over updating social-studies standards in South Dakota schools, and how much effort is being placed on certain aspects of American Indian history. This new campus may be starting with just one grade, but Bowman said she hopes possible expansions in the future will shield more students from policy fallouts - and provide better outcomes.

"They're going to do better economically," she said. "Hopefully they'll go on to post-high school - or you know, services, or find a trade."

Separately, there have been recent legislative efforts in South Dakota to establish state-funded charter schools that would focus on Lakota language, culture and history.


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