PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Amidst a pandemic, the Pine Ridge Reservation was able to open their first public high school, Lakota Tech, which focuses on hands on learning and experience in different fields. A little tough during socially distant times.
Despite many challenges, they made it to graduation day with 25 graduates. With a focus on career development, the school facilitates internships and exposure to different careers and industries, but much of it was virtual this year.
“We had guest speakers from a bunch of different industries step in,” said career planning coordinator, DJ Toczek. “I think in the first semester we had over 20, the second semester, we had around 20 as well. So we had that going on, and that was our main source of getting the outside world involved.”
Even that was challenging. Many students didn’t have access to technology or technological support.
“We ended up purchasing hotspots for kids,” said activity and athletic director, Yamni Jack. “And then we had our laptops, our iPads, our stuff that we had. And so that was the survey we did with the families, of how many kids are going to attend. Make sure they got enrolled first, and from there, we give them an opportunity to come into the building. And also we delivered for the ones that couldn’t make it in.”
Additionally, students at the school didn’t meet teachers and classmates until march.
“A lot of times, if I was struggling in subjects, I was really scared to ask for help, because I didn’t know the teachers or anything,” said student Taylor Byerley. “There was a lot of times I felt really alone. It was hard to talk to people, and it was hard to find the motivation to get up for zoom classes and go to basketball practice. But I kept pushing through it.”
Despite challenges, students love the curriculum as they are given hands on opportunities in their fields of interest.
“I really like the way the curriculum is set up, because I‘m focused on going into the medical field,” said Byerley. “And so, this year I get to take medical classes and dual credit classes that will help me for college.”
Students also enjoy the emphasis on Lakota culture. One St. Thomas More transfer student, Kanyen Mousseaux-Begay, compared her time at both schools. She said,
“I couldn’t wear my ribbon skirt to something at my old school, because it’s not like really a thing you did, but down here everyone’s so proud to be a Native American, and it’s definitely an all around good experience coming from such a sheltered place.”
“We are supporting our students holistically, not only through their education, but also their activities and athletics,” said school district, Dr. Anthony Fairbanks. “But also, our Lakota culture. And we’ve got a very very strong foundation of Lakota culture within our whole school district. At Oglala Lakota County School District, but also within our new high school. And I believe that attracts students, and it really also helps support their identity, and their success within school.”
Enrollment was projected to only be around 100 students, but the year ended with nearly 400. Faculty anticipate an increase in interest as people learn about the school and it’s unique opportunities, and hope to get students out of the school next year. Connecting them with businesses, internships, and more hands-on learning.