Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oceti Sakowin Community Academy reflects on first year

At the end of the event, students painted their handprints onto a star quilt
C.J. Keene
South Dakota Public Broadcasting
At the end of the event, students painted their handprints onto a star quilt

The first year of the first-of-its-kind Oceti Sakowin Community Academy in Rapid City has completed. Parents and educators alike say they’re happy with their decision sending their kids to the Lakota immersion school.

With a class of about twenty students, the first class in the history of the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy welcomed their families to their graduation ceremony with a Lakota class song.

For parents and teachers of Lakota heritage, hearing about two dozen tiny voices singing in a once-repressed language stirs deep emotions. Mary Bowman is the founder and head of the school.

“We always talk about seven generations, they’re going to carry the language and the culture another seven generations," Bowman said. "They say little kids’ minds are like sponges, and they really were in Lakota. We had a little girl sing Lakota at our grand opening, and when I went to shake her hand and thank her, I said my dream is that all your classmates will be doing this – and they did today.”

Bowman said students at the academy are taught in both English and Lakota.

Erin West’s daughter, Renezmae is a student at the school. She said she’s planning on sending her future kids to the academy.

“To see her flourish, she comes home and teaches me something new every day," West said. "For my little daughter to teach me something, that’s awesome. I’m ready to take the big steps with her and she’s anxious for big girl school, and I’m pregnant with twins right now and I’m planning on sending them.”

West said she is disappointed in the lack of Lakota education options in local public schools.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture