High school students from Red Cloud, Custer gather for exchange program

posted on April 21, 2011

Students from Custer High School in South Dakota visited Red Cloud High School this week through an exchange program that brings the two schools together each year. The gathering on April 19 included icebreakers, games, tours and visits to classrooms.

“This exchange program helps bridge the gap these students have, coming from two very different schools and communities,” says Jenny Upton, student activities director at Red Cloud. “We are very excited to have them on campus.”

Upton says that Red Cloud students visited Custer last year, but because of scheduling and weather issues, the Custer High students weren’t able to come to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation until this week.

Earnest Weston, a junior at Red Cloud and vice president of the student council, went to Custer last year.

“It was fun spending the day at Custer, so it’s really great that we get to return the favor and share with them a little about our school and our culture,” he says.

As part of the day’s events, Lakota Studies Teacher Roger White Eyes introduced the students to Lakota handgames, a traditional Lakota guessing game. Students from Custer and Red Cloud teamed up to play one another.

“I really enjoyed it,” says Katie Martinez, a junior from Custer High and the Sergeant at Arms for the Rushmore Region Student Council. “I came because I wanted to experience something new…and I did. I found the whole Native studies classes to be very interesting.”

Dale Shaffer, student council advisor at Custer High, says the day is an important opportunity for the students to get to know one another. The schools compete against each other in sports, but he hopes the gathering fosters strong friendships that last beyond the day.

In addition to the events in the high school and a lunch that included Indian tacos, Tina Merdanian, director of institutional relations at Red Cloud, gave a special presentation.

“It’s good to see these types of partnerships between the schools,” she says. “These students were great listeners and it was very neat that they asked questions and were wanting pointers on how to effectively represent themselves and their communities as leaders.”