Meet the teacher helping Native American kids succeed

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Simplified: Anna Brokenleg has been a teacher in the Sioux Falls School District for 15 years. But now she’s in a special role aimed at helping Native American children succeed.

why is it important

  • Brokenleg grew up in Sioux Falls and went through the public school system herself. She knows firsthand what it’s like to be a Native American student in this environment.and although she has seen the culture improve over the years, she wants to create a better experience for children in school today (including her eldest daughter, who will soon be starting kindergarten).
  • Native American students have significantly lower graduation rates — 36% vs. 86% districtwide — and perform worse than nearly all other racial groups on standardized statewide tests.
  • The district serves more than 2,000 Native American studentssaid Brokenleg, and she wants to break down barriers for these children and help them feel welcome at school.

“You have to start looking at it not just as a dropout rate, but as a dropout rate,” Brokenleg said. “So something in our system was pushing Indigenous students out. And so I think we really needed to think about and assess what our Indigenous students were missing that was creating such a big barrier to graduation.”

What are Brokenleg’s objectives?

Simply put: Helping Native American children succeed by infusing their education with Native culture and language.

She also works at engage more parents through the District Indian Education Parent Committee.

And she’s looking more community involvement. The district has previously worked with the city’s SD Urban Indian Health office.

What has been done so far?

Sioux Falls has Oceti Sakowin Owauspe (OSO) facilitators in every elementary school for the first time this year.

  • Some buildings even have tribal clubs that children can join.

The district is also offering OSO or Native American Connections classes — which teach Lakota/Dakota history, culture and languages ​​— in every middle school and high school for the first time this year.

  • High school students can also learn Lakota/Dakota languages ​​to meet language requirements for graduation.

What happens next? (And how to help)

Brokenleg’s work as a special education teacher continues for another year.

She seeks to establish more connections with the community, especially with Native American parents in the district.

It is also partnering with local universities this year in a pilot program to help Native American students explore their post-college options.

How to help? Brokenleg is seeking other donations to help fund the high school honors ceremony this spring.

  • She also encourages people to spend time reviewing the state’s Oceti Sakowin Standards to better understand Indigenous peoples and culture.
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