New School Opens On Rosebud Indian Reservation

Sep 4, 2013

Sapa Un Academy in St. Francis

The St. Francis Mission is introducing a Nativity/Miguel-model school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. The Sapa Un Academy’s mission is to help educate at-risk kids in this rural area and prepare them to make changes in their own community as professional adults.

St. Francis is a small town in south central South Dakota on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Concerned officials say many young people in this rural area are not getting a good education – in part because many students don’t attend school regularly. Officials say a lack of quality educational experiences leaves young people ill-prepared to be productive adults – and they are working to change that.

“The educational systems here leave a lot to be desired and there’s a huge drop-out rate with kids especially when they enter high school - in either of the two high schools on the reservation and many times they come out without having an adequate education or they simply drop out,” says Hatcher.

Father John Hatcher is the President of the St. Francis Mission. He says the Mission is introducing the Sapa Un Academy - a Nativity/Miguel model of Jesuit-developed schooling where close attention is paid to delivering a cultural-based curriculum, where parents are required to be heavily involved, and where young people are encouraged to graduate high school, attend college, and then come back as professionals and use their knowledge to help make their community a better place.

Hatcher says at-risk kids here in South Dakota can benefit from this model of schooling.

“Our hope is to get a group of people over time who can complete a course of studies and we think that this model will help people get there,” says Hatcher.

Hatcher says this year the Sapa Un Academy is opening its doors to third-graders, but he says the Academy will expand by adding a grade every school year – a fourth grade class next year, fifth after that, and so on. He says they will also offer programming during summer months to keep kids caught up and engaged.

Hatcher says his school follows state regulations and begins in the fall and ends in spring but the days are longer than in a public school – he says students go from eight thirty in the morning until six in the evening.

He says the Nativity/Miguel model of schooling is a combination of useful classes.

“We’ll bring in Lakota speakers to make sure that the kids by the eighth grade can read, write and speak the language, as well as be proficient in English. And we’re also going to spend a lot of time with Lakota culture as well as the Catholic faith,” says Hatcher.

Hatcher says kids also focus on good manners.

“The model does provide for educating kids to be well-behaved. So they spend a lot of time with children teaching them how to respect one another, how to respect elders. If you go into one of these schools one of the amazing things that happens is a kid will come right up to you and say welcome to my school. They’re not at all afraid of people and they are polite and they bring you around, so I think it’s a whole culture that’s created within the classroom,” says Hatcher.

Father Hatcher says it’s the important Nativity/Miguel-model elements like getting parents involved in their kid’s academic career that contributes to a student’s success.

“The big key is parental involvement so all the parents have to sign a contract to volunteer to do things at the school and to help educate the children when they go home. So it demands a lot on the part of the parents,” says Hatcher.

Hatcher says the school is designed to be obtainable for any parent interested in having their child attend the Sapa Un Academy.

“They’ll either pay fifty dollars a month or they have to donate four hours a month of time. Of course that doesn’t nearly cover what the cost is, but when you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have work - it was important to have a system in which people bought into the school,” says Hatcher.

Hatcher says he hopes that after completing their education the kids will return to their community and use their degrees to give back and bring a brighter future for residents.

“Our goal has to be to see how can we help develop a professional group of people on the reservation. For instance doctors, dentists, psychologists; people who can make a difference in the lives of their own people. I think from the very beginning part of the culture of the classroom is to say we’re doing this to figure out how to help people here have a better life in the future,” says Hatcher.

Father Hatcher says academies like Sapa Un have been successful since the seventies. He says class size is typically limited to about twenty students. He says there are currently five on staff at the Academy – a principal, a teacher, an aide, a cook, and a Jesuit volunteer.

Hatcher says in addition to the Sapa Un Academy, the St. Francis Mission also offers services like a dental clinic and a suicide hotline.

The ribbon cutting to celebrate the beginning of the school year was on Tuesday.