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Elementary Education at Red Cloud: Building a Community of Belief

April 12, 2019


 

 


 

 

What makes a Red Cloud education effective for its youngest students? Ann-Marie Amiotte, Red Cloud’s elementary school principal, does not hesitate to answer:

“Teachers that unequivocally and genuinely believe that all students can succeed.”

As principal, Ann-Marie has seen how that mindset of belief among the faculty, along with high expectations in the classroom, can unlock each young student’s potential. She explains that, in the elementary school at Red Cloud, students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 are all part of a “learning community” that encompasses the school’s mission of educating both the mind and the spirit. That means that students focus not only on academics, but also on developing character, compassion, and confidence in their identity as Lakota students.

Lakota virtues, from generosity to wisdom, are a primary focus throughout the year. Monthly assemblies for grades K-4 help to emphasize their importance and build a community atmosphere. Students and faculty gather each month to focus on a virtue.

“We talk about what that virtue is, and we practice it throughout the month. We keep track and reward each other when we see another student or teacher displaying that virtue.” says Ann-Marie.

The assembly always begins with a Lakota prayer song and smudging, giving each student the opportunity to experience elements of Lakota spirituality with their school community.

 

 


 

 

The spiritual component of the elementary experience at Red Cloud has been strengthened this year by the presence of Gloria Alvarez, the designated Campus Minister for Grades K-8. Originally from Chile, Gloria began her relationship with Red Cloud as a volunteer religion teacher for grades K-4, and her role later evolved to her current position as Campus Minister. This year, the Campus Minister’s role has ranged from spearheading activities for Catholic seasons, such as Advent and Lent, to providing a loving, listening ear for students who are struggling, but not in need of formal counseling.

In addition to nurturing spirituality in the student body at Red Cloud, staff in the elementary school have developed the Heritage Reading Program, which offers students another way to connect with their Lakota identify. The program is described as “a means to build one’s own identity as a unique and precious link in the chain of life… through reading our traditions and stories.” Authors featured in the Heritage Reading Program’s selections include Paul Goble (Buffalo Woman, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses) John Marshall (The Lakota Way, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse), Gina Capaldi (Red Bird Sings), and Joyce Milton (Pocahontas, Sacajawea).

. This piece won the student art content in the Heritage Reading Program. Students were asked to draw a symbol of Lakota culture.
In Gloria’s words, “Our main goal is to make the children aware of the precious treasure they have as a heritage; to do it not as a duty or something we ‘must’ preserve for future generations, but because we see the beauty of it. To feel that ‘We love to be who we are and we celebrate our identity with praise, pride and thanksgiving.’”

 

 


 

 

Further strengthening the elementary school’s connection to their Lakota heritage is the presence of the Iyápi Glukínipi Owáyawa Tȟáŋka, the Lakota language immersion classroom designed by Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and based on Red Cloud’s main campus. This program, which has been housed within the Mackert building for the past three years, has a total of 16 students ranging from Kindergarten through Grade 2. The presence of the program in the building “has been powerful because that’s all Lakota, all pride. When you have that in your building, the rest of us have to absorb it,“ says Ann-Marie.

All those components, alongside a strong curriculum and caring teachers, are what make early childhood education at Red Cloud so special. When principal Ann-Marie Amiotte describes the atmosphere of the Red Cloud elementary, the energy and urgency of the school’s mission is crystal clear.

“It’s a whole different mindset. There are no excuses. These are our kids, these are amazing kids, these are smart kids, and we [need to] keep changing things up in the classroom until we are able to unlock each individual student’s potential. They are going to succeed because they are Lakota, not in spite of being Lakota.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Photos © Red Cloud Indian School


 

 

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