New Chromebooks Bring
the Digital World to the Pine Ridge Reservation

posted April 23, 2014

Red Cloud’s campus may sit in one of the most geographically isolated places in the entire country, hundreds of miles away from any urban atmosphere.  But in the digital age, the world is opening to Red Cloud students—with the help of some brand new, high-tech tools.

“Having technology available helps our students be in touch with the world, with everything that’s out there. It’s vital for them to progress and move forward in their education. Otherwise you’re isolated, as we’ve been here on Pine Ridge for decades—not knowing what life is like in other communities, other states, other countries,” says Robert Brave Heart Sr., Red Cloud’s executive vice president. “Now our students can have that knowledge at their fingertips, and it makes a world of difference.”

Providing Red Cloud students with access to technology hasn’t always been easy. In many places on the reservation, getting a simple Internet connection is nearly impossible—and for most families, so is purchasing a new computer.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had over the last 25 to 30 years since the explosion of computer technology is that our students haven’t had access. Some have access to fairly modern technology—but I will go to another house, sometimes literally next door, and they won’t have a television,” explains Ted Hamilton, Red Cloud’s superintendent.

Economically the reservation may be something akin to a third word, but our students walk smack-dab into a first world setting. The expectation today is that, when you walk into college, having a laptop is the same thing as having a textbook. Our kids come at this without that access that the rest of the United States in many ways takes for granted.”

As soon as the Chromebooks arrived, they were immediately put to use by teachers and students. Nakina Mills ’98, director of student advancement and alumni support, used them to help students prepare to head off to college next year. Seniors worked on the Chromebooks to write their college entrance essays, to take college aptitude testing, and to apply for critical financial aid and scholarships.

This spring, students began working on 150 shiny new Google Chromebooks. Of the set, 100 were a generous gift from Lola VanDeWalle and the Go Girl International Foundation, which works to nourish, support, educate, and motivate young girls to grow and gain confidence to make decisions on their path in life. The other 50 were purchased through important grants from the Great Plains Foundation and the Endangered Language Fund.

For that very reason, Red Cloud administrators have been focusing in recent years on significantly expanding access to technology on campus—from laptop computers to faster wireless Internet access.  And through the help and support of committed donors, new digital technology and tools are opening new possibilities for Red Cloud students.

“The new Chromebooks were an amazing help—it’s so important we have these resources so that our students can get into and ultimately succeed in college,” says Nakina.  

Another set of Chromebooks is helping Lakota language students expand their skills and use new online tools to complete their assignments and use sophisticated multimedia tools for language learning.

And yet another set of Chromebooks helped Red Cloud meet crucial state standardized testing requirements. According to Hamilton, this year the state mandated aptitude test was conducted online for the very first time—and Red Cloud simply couldn’t have met state standards without the new Chromebooks.  

Now that testing is over, the Chromebooks are in classrooms all across the schools, and students are using them for writing assignments, research and presentations. In addition, teachers are learning to integrate computers into their curricula more seamlessly. And Hamilton says this is just the beginning.

“A year and a half ago, we were asking, how do we get a computer for every three children, but that was before the Google Chromebook. Now it’s reasonable to imagine having a 1 to 1 computer to student ratio. And these donations are a huge first step toward that goal,” he explains.

“Technology allows us to be much richer. Not only can we look at another landscape, we can see video of it, we can hear sound from it. We need more computers in the hands of kids—and I won’t be happy until every child is walking around with one.”

All Rights Reserved, ©Red Cloud Indian School, 2014