Ben Jones, Secretary for South Dakota Dept. of Ed, gets look into reservation education

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Thursday, Secretary Ben Jones toured Wolf Creek Elementary and the latest developments at Lakota Tech Tatonka schools.

This is all part of a new initiative to help schools in Native American reservations achieve their goals in educating their community youth.

“We’re beginning a process of talking to them and going out, finding out what’s going on and doing an assessment in that regard,” says Jones.

Oglala Lakota School Board members and Superintendent Anthony Fairbanks were able to greet Jones and his staff Thursday morning. Then a tour of the campus and school lunch with the students was provided.

Fairbanks and staff were able to share the progress on the new technical, trade school that will supposedly be the first of its kind — providing public education with technical training in multiple fields, a freshmen academy and extracurricular activities.

“You know our students are going to graduate with a trade — be certified in various areas; I.T., medical, law enforcement, business management, and we’re also looking into teaching students how to be teachers,” says Fairbanks. “So we’ll be developing our own teachers with our high school.”

Jones and Fairbanks both understand that in Oglala Lakota county meth and crime are large problems needing to be addressed. Jones — at the state level- is able to offer practical support for schools in fighting against meth.

“There will be more focused programming and so forth that will be coming along with the meth campaign, particularly for our middle schools,” says Jones. “We’re beginning to think about all the different ways that mental health capacity can be strengthened in schools that’s really focused on letting the educators teach but also letting them understand what is a discipline problem and what may be leading to a mental health problem.”

Fairbanks says in his own schools the sense of community — particularly the one being generated with the new high school — will be helpful in the fight.

“You know I believe that is really important,” Fairbanks said. “That [kids] get up every day wanting to go to school because it’s a safe place. We have good food, good teachers, very supportive staff throughout the entire school district. And great school board members. And again just making sure that our students are safe and are learning a lot, getting prepared for the future. And I believe this high school is going to get the job done.”

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