CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. - Reservation schools are experiencing a growing
enrollment while public schools are showing a decline. Unfortunately,
reservation schools are hard pressed for money, teachers and adequate
The federal budget for building construction was reduced by $60 million and
education on reservations has lagged behind the rest of the country for
more than 70 years, educators were told at a recent South Dakota Tribal
While federal input to education shrinks, the tribes look to the state for
help, and Gov. Mike Rounds has changed the tone of activities between the
state and tribes within the state.
American Indian educators in reservation schools face a much different
daily agenda than many public school educators. Poverty rises to the top of
the problem list while dropout rates, loss of language and culture,
inadequate funding, teacher recruitment and parental involvement, plague
success potentials in Indian schools.
Attendees at the summit said it was always the American Indian educators
and population that had to reach out to the state, but today the state is
obliging by organizing the summit, creating a 24-person Indian Education
Advisory Council and establishing the office of Indian Education. The
council has met once and another meeting is scheduled for this summer.
State Secretary of Education Rick Melmer listened as many people from the
reservations presented a litany of problems they face on a daily basis from
decaying buildings to a lack of technology and text books. Tribal attendees
said it has been a long time since a state administration has taken the
time to listen to tribal concerns over education or other issues.
"It's a huge challenge, where does it begin," Melmer asked.
The governor repeated a frequent message about diversity and culture. He
urged people to celebrate diversity, "learn from it, share it and share
what we have in common."
He asked the delegates to attend the summit and to look beyond the cultural
differences and find a common bond that will improve education for both
Indian and non-Indian students.
But what can a state do to help education on reservations that are subject
to federal control and funding? Plenty, attendees said. First, encourage
more American Indian teachers to work at public schools throughout the
state, and organize an exchange program of student teachers from the state
colleges and universities and tribal colleges.
Teaching accurate historical information in the state's schools has also
been a major problem for years. There are graduates from high schools in
the state who know very little about American Indians who make up 8.3
percent of the state population.
Another issue that has plagued the school systems for many years is the
dropout rate. Art Zimiga, director of Indian education for the Rapid City
Public schools said that 78 percent of American Indian students drop out.
Many change schools and go the reservations where their parents or
grandparents live or are enrolled. However, a number of students who drop
out of the tribal schools move to the urban areas as well.
Data collected at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation show
that when a student is versed in his or her culture the chance of achieving
success in education is enhanced. That means the culture should be taught
in the schools or in the home.
The public school system does not provide cultural education and 83 percent
of all American Indian children utilize the public school system, whether
on or off the reservation.
The Lakota language and cultural awareness is taught at the Todd County
school system, which is located on the Rosebud Reservation. Dottie LeBeau,
a member of the advisory committee, said her sub-committee recognized that
more emphasis should be placed on language. She said that by 2013 fewer
than 3 percent of the people will speak the Lakota language.
Tribal education leaders have testified before the State Tribal Relations
Committee of the state legislature about the need for a cooperative effort
by the state and tribes to improve education.
Stan Adelstein, chairman of the committee was the only legislative member
that attended the summit. He said that to change education on the
reservations poverty must be addressed.
The No Child Left Behind Act is not effective on reservations, educators
argue, because it does not allow for the poverty element. Many students are
either tardy or late for school as a result of their economic conditions at
home, and according to the act, the school system would be punished because
of the poor attendance and poor grades among those who don't attend
Melmer presented the summit attendees with goal of identifying areas that
were important to address. A short list was compiled from many suggestions.
They included: language, poverty, social issues, parental involvement,
teacher certification/recruitment/retention and funding.
Melmer said his department must respond to the issues and develop
strategies that will turn into action. He said waiting to implement some
strategies could not wait a year.