Red Cloud Moves to Dual-Language Education

Learning in Lakȟóta to Revitalize an Endangered Language

After launching the nation’s first comprehensive K-12 Lakȟóta language curriculum over a decade ago, Red Cloud Indian School has taken another momentous step in its language revitalization work. Last academic year, Red Cloud began shifting to a dual-language education model—to use the Lakȟóta language as the medium of education across all grade levels. This change will transform the educational experiences of Red Cloud and Our Lady of Lourdes students, and directly support broader efforts across our community to empower a new generation of fluent Lakȟóta speakers.

While much progress has been made in revitalizing the Lakȟóta language, today it remains severely endangered. In 2006, there were approximately 6,000 first-language Lakȟóta speakers remaining, but data shows that number has decreased to close to 2,000. This number is being affected daily as COVID is taking our elders at an alarming rate. These realities, coupled with students' energy and passion for learning the language, is driving Red Cloud’s emerging work in dual-language education.

“In the years since we launched our second language learning curriculum, the Lakȟóta Language Project, we’ve seen educational outcomes improve across every grade. But more than that, we’ve seen our students’ confidence and self-esteem grow exponentially as they reconnect with their heritage and culture through learning the language,” said Moira Coomes, Red Cloud’s Superintendent. “Dual-language education will help us take our language revitalization work to a whole new level, and support our students in doing what they have become so deeply committed to—sustaining the Lakȟóta language for generations to come.”

Red Cloud’s move to dual-language education builds on the work of two strong and fruitful partnerships Red Cloud formed to support language revitalization. In 2007, Red Cloud and the American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI) at Indiana University came together to develop the Lakȟóta Language Project (LLP), a groundbreaking second-language learning curriculum that brought Lakȟóta into every classroom on Red Cloud’s campus, improved language instruction, and created a new orthography.

Language Camp

To build on that work, three years ago Red Cloud became the home of the Iyápi Glukínipi Owáyawa Tȟáŋka, an innovative Lakȟóta language immersion program designed and operated by partners at Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. This pilot program resulted in unprecedented success in language acquisition for our participating kindergarten students during the 2019-20 academic year, and prepared Red Cloud to launch our independent dual-language initiative.

This academic year the dual-language education will expand at both schools within the Red Cloud school district - Red Cloud Elementary and Our Lady of Lourdes in Porcupine. As the program grows over time, students will study a range of academic subjects—math, science, language arts, social studies, and more—in a dual-language environment. Our long-term goal is to ensure that a greater percentage of the learning experience in every grade is completed in Lakȟóta: ultimately kindergarten through fourth graders will learn 90 percent in Lakȟóta, grades 5-8 will study 80 percent in Lakȟóta, and high school students grades 9-12 will study 50 percent in Lakȟóta.

Red Cloud’s dual-language education model will continue to align with rigorous standards and the Jesuit educational framework, but also fully integrate Lakȟóta values and an Indigenous worldview designed to support our students in all aspects of their lives. The design also includes having first-language speaking elders in the classroom to inspire students while building a stronger bridge between generations.

Despite the scarcity of learning resources in Lakȟóta, as well as having to teach virtually as a response to the pandemic, this year Red Cloud’s language teachers are using all their skills and creativity to support their students’ growth and development. At the same time, they are focused on developing a unique curriculum to support and expand dual-language learning across all grade levels. Since the middle of the summer, they have created over 300 lessons, including a differentiated reading program covering four grades, math and reading lessons for kindergarten and first grade, and the first lessons to accompany an interactive reader based on traditional stories. They are also leveraging technology in all aspects of the curriculum to create paperless classrooms.

Lakota Illustration

The team of educators responsible for this work, which includes a growing number of Red Cloud alum, brings a deep commitment to revitalizing the Lakȟóta language while supporting Indigenous students with culturally-relevant education. Our Lady of Lourdes was fortunate to find Tilda St. Pierre, a tribal member and a first-language speaker, to head up the kindergarten class. Maggie McGhee, a tribal member from the Rosebud Reservation, along with Red Cloud alumna and tribal member Cherella Hughes, are currently teaching kindergarten at Red Cloud.

Red Cloud alumna Elyssa Sierra Concha is now in her second year in the dual-language program and teaching first grade. And three classroom teacher trainees who are all Red Cloud graduates—Chanda Lays Bad, JaShaun St. John, and Jordianja Clifford— provide additional support for both lead teachers and students. For Elyssa Sierra, seeing her first-graders learning entirely in Lakȟóta is a reminder of the power of reclaiming a language that was almost lost.

Sierra and Mia

“My grandfather was taken from his family, from his mother, when he was really, really young. There he lost his culture and his language, and that affected our family heavily. [But] he was able to see, before he passed, the language being revitalized...to see his grandchildren going into school and learning Lakȟóta, and being in a Lakȟóta classroom, rather than what he experienced as a child,” she shared. “This program will help us raise an entirely new generation of fluent Lakȟóta speakers who will be strong leaders and who will ultimately help heal our community. It’s a beautiful movement to be a part of.”

To learn more about Red Cloud’s language revitalization work, reach out to Moira Coomes at superintendent@redcloudschool.org or visit www.redcloudschool.org


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