Red Cloud Indian School senior Jaime Rae Richards has earned the prestigious Horatio Alger Scholarship. The competitive scholarship supports deserving young people who have overcome challenges in their lives in order to pursue higher education. For Jaime, this means she’s one step closer to achieving her dream of going to college and becoming a health care professional.
Red Cloud Indian School is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the annual per capita income is only $8,768 and six out of ten children live in poverty. Education is a major challenge on the reservation where only 12 percent of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree. At Red Cloud however, 90 percent of Jaime’s friends will go on to pursue higher education or post-secondary training after graduation.
Teachers and administrators say the high-quality curriculum, student-focused environment and programs that honor Lakota culture make all the difference.
To earn the scholarship, Jaime wrote several personal essays where she reflected on overcoming adversity in her life, how a person supported and inspired her, and how she will prevent future challenges from holding her back. Jaime noted that the application was difficult, but with the help of Anne Grass, one of her teachers, she was able to write strong essays and meet her deadlines.
“I’m proud of Jaime. She has developed an impressive work ethic and consistently goes above and beyond, turning in multiple drafts of work after pouring over notes and readings.” said Grass. “I get a lot of inspiration from her and believe she is very deserving of this honor.”
For her essays, Jaime focused on one of the biggest challenges she had ever faced and how she was able to continue toward her goal with the support of her family and her faith.
“Around the same time that my parents divorced there were two suicides—a family member and my best friend,” explained Jaime. “It was one of the hardest times in my life, but my grandma helped me get back into my culture. She took me to a sweatlodge ceremony and to other ceremonies, and it was the start of my healing process.”
“Jaime is someone who really relies on faith, both Lakota and Catholic,” said Grass. “And I think it’s phenomenal to see a student utilize her spirituality and overcome adversity again and again.”
As Jaime healed, her faith grew stronger and helped her maintain a positive outlook on life. Today, her spirituality continues to help steer and support her as she prepares for, and considers the next chapter in her life.
Now, as a 2015 Horatio Alger scholar, Jaime is looking to the future with wide eyes and nervous excitement.
“When I looked at my email and I saw the word ‘congratulations,’ I seriously bawled tears of happiness," said Jaime. "It’s just such an honor, I’m really happy to get this.”
The Horatio Alger Association states on their website that they have awarded $100 million in scholarships to approximately 20,000 students across the country since 1984. The association supports low-income students by granting need-based awards to applicants who have demonstrated integrity, academic potential and a “personal aspiration to make a unique contribution to society.” Jaime will receive $7,000 to apply toward her college tuition next year.
She is still waiting to hear back from her top schools: Dartmouth College and Creighton University. Jaime knows that every little bit will help her afford her dream of becoming a nurse, which can cost upwards of $50,000 per year.
“For a while I wanted to be a police officer, then a social worker, then a lawyer,” she said. “I tried to narrow down my options and I thought about how I like to help people and I thought about what I’m good at in school—my science and anatomy classes. I remembered back to my sophomore year, when my grandfather passed away from cancer. I remembered seeing the nurses and I realized that’s what I want to do; that’s how I can help.”
While Jaime waits to hear back from her top schools, she continues to keep herself busy as the school’s girls basketball team manager, applying for additional scholarships and dreaming about the future.
“It’s a busy time,” she said. “But I know everything will be figured out by August. I’m ready to close this chapter in my life and start the next one. But it’s going to be hard leaving this place—Red Cloud has been really good to me. When I become a nurse, I’ll definitely come back and hopefully get a job at the Indian Health Services hospital.”