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School year reflections: Educating the next generation of leaders



Today, as a teacher at the Porcupine Day School and Teach For America-South Dakota corps member, I remain true to and proud of my Native heritage as I work to educate the next generation of Indian leaders.

Reflecting on the past school year I am honored and humbled to be a part of an organization that works in partnership with local communities to end educational inequity through high academic expectations and culturally responsive teaching methods.

My first interaction with Teach For America came when I was an undergraduate at Columbia University. Many of my friends and peers who were applying to Teach For America’s corps encouraged me to apply because the organization offered an opportunity to make an immediate impact through teaching in Indian communities and opportunities to develop my leadership over the long-term for my people. Defiantly, I resisted applying because at the time I did not believe an outside organization could have an impact on reservation life and that positive change needed to be driven from within. This sentiment remained true until meeting corps members on the Pine Ridge Reservation who broadened my perspective. This meeting inspired me to take a risk and apply to Teach for America.

Over these last two years in the South Dakota corps, I am pleased to have been proven wrong about my original assumptions. I’ve seen the persistence and passion of my fellow corps members in action from coaching a sport they have never played, starting talking circles to empower young women, learning to bead, driving an hour out of the way to tutor a student at home, guiding students through the Gates Millennium process and making measurable growth in both reading and math.

Unfortunately, these gains and accomplishments go unnoticed because the problems that our Native youth face are not addressed in our nation’s discussions about education. Indigenous youth continue to go overlooked despite all the issues that plague reservation communities. One in three Indian children live in poverty, the average high school graduation rate as of 2014 was at 67 percent, the lowest of any racial ethnic demographic, and suicide is 2.5 times the national rate in Native American youth between the ages of 15 to 24. After growing up on a reservation similar to Pine Ridge and living in South Dakota for the last seven years, I have seen these challenges continue to worsen and few solutions being proposed.

Despite all odds being against our students, their resilience shines through by their persistence to their future. These students still wake up each day willing to learn. Indeed, throughout the school year, there were some tough days and times when our students wanted to give up. Yet, through all the ups and downs, our students continue to strive towards excellence, strive towards a college education and strive towards a bright future.

As we recently closed out another successful school year, we know that the fight isn’t over. Our Indian youth deserve more than what is given to them. They deserve teachers who go above and beyond and do everything they can to make teaching exciting. They deserve teachers who work in partnership with their parents and community members to help advance their education. They deserve teachers to validate their identity, allow them to be proud of their background and encourage them to achieve their dreams.

To my fellow educators, I say lila wopila, thank you, for all the work you do to give students the exceptional education they deserve. We have all endured many trials during our time in the classroom, but more importantly we have experienced emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth. Throughout this journey, I like so many other teachers, discovered that our students were going to teach us more than we ever could.

I have truly been humbled during my time as a Teach for America corps member, especially after seeing the impact of the community on our students. I dream of a day when all of our students will have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and that statistics will not predict their futures. As a collective, we are making gains and are breaking down barriers. I hope more dedicated individuals who believe that our youth deserve an equal education will consider teaching as a career. Lastly, I have faith that the beauty, strength and resilience of the Lakota Nation will continue to guide, protect and nurture our youth.

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