District still dealing with high Native dropout rates

2012-07-08T06:30:00Z 2014-09-10T09:36:05Z District still dealing with high Native dropout ratesLynn Taylor Rick Journal staff Rapid City Journal
July 08, 2012 6:30 am  • 

Nearly 11 percent of Native American students in the Rapid City Area Schools district dropped out of school last year, compared to 2.4 percent of their peers.

The same year, just under 52 percent of Native students in the district graduated from their school — a drop from 54 percent in 2009. The rates are an improvement over 2007, when graduation rates for Native students were just 40 percent.

The numbers paint a discouraging picture not only for the dropouts themselves but for South Dakota as a whole. High school dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, be incarcerated, become single parents and be unhealthy, according to a report by Civic Enterprises, a Washington-based public policy firm.

All of those situations pose a potential burden on society, both socially and economically. Nationwide, one in every four students drops out of high school before graduation. If every student who should have graduated in 2011 had done so, the economy would have seen a benefit of $154 billion in additional income during their lifetimes, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. In South Dakota, dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost the state $653 million in lost wages over their lifetime.

“It’s one of those ‘Where do you start? Where do you begin?’” Roger Campbell, director of the South Dakota Office of Indian Education, said.

The Rapid City Journal analyzed records from the South Dakota Department of Education on dropout and graduation rates of students, broken down by Native American versus non-Native American students. What the Journal found is that the Rapid City district scores poorly in Native graduation rates and dropout rates compared to other districts of similar size. In Sioux Falls, 6.2 percent of Native students dropped out in 2011 compared with Rapid City's 10.6 percent. In Aberdeen, 5.3 percent of Native students dropped out in 2011.

Even Shannon County, a district located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, had a lower dropout rate than Rapid City in 2011 at 6.2 percent. Todd County, inside the Rosebud Indian Reservation, had a dropout rate higher than Rapid City at 11.5 percent.

Statewide, the graduation rate for Native American students in 2011 was 57.1 percent compared with 85.9 percent for all students. The dropout rates are 6.6 percent for Native students and 1.8 percent for all students. That's 1,003 students who dropped out of school.

Tom Morth, management analyst with the Department of Education, explains that graduation rates and dropout rates are calculated in two ways by the state and are not “additively” related to one another. In other words, just because a graduation rate is 90 percent doesn't automatically calculate that the dropout rate is 10 percent, Morth said. Graduation rates are calculated on a four-year average using a formula created by No Child Left Behind. Some students who drop out of high school go on to attain their degrees in other ways, including GED diplomas and completing their schooling through extended learning programs in the summer.

No matter how the numbers are calculated, however, they are startling.

Campbell said Native American student dropout rates have long been a focus of his office but have risen to the forefront of late. As a result, Campbell will be in Rapid City in August for a Native American education "summit” to look for answers.

Organized with the Rapid City district, the summit will bring together schools in the state that have had success with improving both the rates of graduation among Native students, but also decreasing the achievement gap, said Jr. Bettelyoun, director of Indian Education in Rapid City.

“Sometimes we take for granted our students are dropping out for reasons beyond our control,” Bettelyoun said. “I also think there are some things we can do within our school environment to help keep kids in school.”

Campbell said schools with large Native student populations will be invited to bring their success stories to the summit. Hopefully, districts can benefit from each other. “We will be gathering some of those best practice models that are making a difference,” he said.

During the summit, educators will also address the challenges of improving the rates, something that can't be discussed without acknowledging the complex socioeconomic challenges those students face, Campbell said.

Probably the biggest challenge for Native students is poverty, he said.

An estimated 41.7 percent of Native Americans in the United States live in poverty, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

“The social repercussions of poverty” play a role in the dropout rates, Campbell said. A child without basic needs such as food and housing faces greater challenges in general than a more economically privileged student. How do they get to school? How do they concentrate if they are hungry? Do they have a home to go to at night?

Social pressures also come into play. If a student faces racism or feels disconnected at school and unsupported by their community and family, will they see the relevance of school?

So what are the answers?

Bettelyoun said the first step is getting students to use the programs already in place.

Bettelyoun lists several district programs that focus on improving the educational outcomes of Native American students, including a program called Credit Recovery. Started as a summer program in 2011, the program will now be incorporated year-round, he said. The online program allows students to finish classes they may have fallen behind in, without retaking the entire course.

“(It) takes them where they're at and moves forward,” he said. “They don’t have to go back and rehash.”

Bettelyoun said the district also plans to place 10 people in schools beginning with the 2012-2013 academic year to work as tutors to at-risk students. Rapid City Central, which has a Native dropout rate of 10.3 percent, also incorporated smaller science classes specifically for Native American students.

The district has a Beyond the Books program that connects students with employers in the community for internship opportunities as well as the Rushmore Program, which helps students return to school after going through treatment programs. And Bettelyoun said there are always the district's alternative programs — Jefferson Academy, Lincoln Academy and the Career Learning Center.

“We have all kinds of alternative programs for our kids to tap into,” Bettelyoun said.

Retired teacher Jackie Swanson believes that many of the programs within the district, excluding the smaller science classes, simply aren't working.

Swanson, 2009 Teacher of Year for the district, has worked in grade school, middle school and high school, ending her career at Central High School last school year as director of the Solutions program.

Solutions, part of the district’s Learn and Service program, was designed to give Native students a voice in improving graduation rates in the district. The Central High School program won the National Educational Association Minority and Civil Rights Award in 2011, and Swanson, along with five of its members, presented as the key note speakers at a recent dropout summit in Bismarck, N.D.

Swanson believes that a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality by the district is hurting Native students and that turf battles have led to decisions that are not in the best interest of those kids. She points to an attempt by Solutions to improve transportation opportunities for students by utilizing city buses. The district initially agreed to give the plan a try before pulling the plug on it, she said.

Swanson said Solutions students repeatedly tell her that situational transportation issues plays a role in missed classes and drop out decisions.

“We’ve got to take our personality out of it and do what’s best for kids,” she said.

Swanson believes programs like Solutions should be bolstered within the district. Bettelyoun said that since Swanson’s retirement, Solutions has been revamped and will now include all students at all Rapid City high schools.

Swanson also believes that the district's move toward larger classroom sizes hurts teachers' ability to connect with students — a critical element in keeping kids in school. At-risk students need to feel connected, she said. When they are one of 30 students in a classroom, that's less likely to happen, no matter how good a teacher is, Swanson said.

“The leadership needs to really take a look at what they're doing,” she said.

Campbell agrees that bigger classrooms and bigger schools are not helping at-risk students.

“I do think that is affecting those at-risk students,” he said. “They get lost in the numbers if you will.”

Bettelyoun disagrees. He said it’s not the number of students in the classroom that matters; it’s the relationships that are made within that classroom.

“Kids have to build relationships among themselves as well as with teachers,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the need for that relationship.”

Swanson said teachers are stretched so thinly with large class sizes and added responsibility that building relationships is becoming more and more difficult. “I believe that the teachers are doing all they can,” she said.

Ione Gayton, a Rapid City grandmother raising her granddaughter Aries Martinez, believes Native students feel alienated from the district. Gayton attended Central when she was one of just 10 Native students.

Even with that number, Gayton believes many Native students there don’t feel included.

“It's getting harder and harder for them to stay in school,” she said. “I don't know if they're really encouraged that much to be a part of the school, or if they're just tolerated.”

Swanson challenges the district to lead the way in changing attitudes about Native American students and to do more listening to Native students about their needs. Native students do want to succeed, she said. “I don’t believe any of these kids want to be statistics,” Swanson said.

Bettelyoun believes that the district is on the right track, especially with new programs on the horizon. He hopes the August summit will result in even more ideas but he warns that change doesn’t happen overnight.

“It just takes time,” Bettelyoun said.

Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or lynn.taylorrick@rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(23) Comments

  1. MagicWater
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    MagicWater - September 22, 2012 1:18 am
    If you couldn't tell I am a Strait "A" 4.0 GPA student who has done college programs even in high school. Graduated with many honors from Rapid City central High school despite all the racism, despite all the Lakolkiciyapi rooms Forcing me to miss class, frustrating me beyond reason and tying me to a leash to keep me back from my full potential. I went against their better wishes and TOOK AP classes, I got A's! I took extra classes, and did all the work myself for my acceptance to an Art Institute *Which I am still top of class 4.0 GPA*. And I will give them no credit because all they did was hold me back. When I read Lakolkiciyapi I remember the times they put me on Native only tests, Native only rooms, Native only tutors that were forced not privileged while other students got to chill with their friends and study I had to entertain these Yahoo's. My fists bled from my biting of them to prevent myself from punching these money grubby people. Who in my opinion were not even qualified to tutor a squirrel. They kept pounding into our heads "You'll fail, you'll drop out, your native you'll drop out" And that my friends I found as not only racist but harassment. Every time they MADE me do something no others students had to do because their family wasn't native I felt-pain. Humiliation, disgrace for my skin color. How was my skin, the decided factor in my intelligence and comprehension? I fought, tooth and nail to prove these people wrong, because, they are. Very wrong about native students. I am 21 years old and I can say without a doubt I suffer from those years of harassment, and racism in Rapid City Central high school. It wasn't till I left SD and attended other schools that I realized, there is no place for what these people did. Not for money, not for some false sense of helping the world or a race of people. Just wrong. That 1.2 million dollar grant ruined the best years of my public education because the school district saw it as another way to shove lower students ahead to fail, and pulling ,frustrating the intelligent students back making them not want to go to school any longer.
  2. Bobbie
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    Bobbie - July 11, 2012 6:52 am
    deref Null I agree. It is always someone elses fault. The Native culture is supposed to be centered on the famiy. For some reason that is not always the case anymore. It is not someone elses fault. It is the fault of the parents. Whether it be an addiction, just giving up on life, or not caring about the offspring you bring into this life. My wife and I have two daughters and it was a 24/7/365 job to raise them to be productive citizens that care as much about others as they do themselves. Everyone should be taught to get up every day and say to themselves "How can I make this world better for myself and others." With that attitude you don't have time to wallow in self pitty and the me attitude.
  3. beaker
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    beaker - July 10, 2012 1:05 pm
    I think smaller class-sizes would benefit all kids, not just native americans. However reducing class sizes isn't something that the district can afford.
  4. dereferencing Null
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    dereferencing Null - July 10, 2012 9:48 am
    "Todd County, inside the Rosebud Indian Reservation, had a dropout rate higher than Rapid City at 11.5 percent."

    There's no playing the race card on this one, sorry. When drop out rates at a school on the reservation are higher than that of schools that are predominately Caucasian you just cannot draw that conclusion.

    My feelings are that the links between poverty and dropout rates (regardless of race) are due to the facts that most "poor" people receive benefits that help them get all of the things they need and WANT without any need for education. If you don't need education, then why get it? These feelings are passed on to the kids and the cycle continues. Even if the parents don't receive benefits, if they don't feel that education is important then I would bet the kids will have the same feelings.
  5. Deklan
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    Deklan - July 09, 2012 8:05 pm
    From the 08/20/08 Journal: Using a $1.17 million Bush grant, the district will turn the school's Lakolkiciyapi Room, which was designed to assist high-risk Native American students, into the Lakolkiciyapi Resource Center, which will be available for all Native American students but focus particularly on freshmen.

    From the 10/10/10 Journal: Improving Native student school success and graduation rates is the goal of the Lakolkiciyapi Resource Center at Central High School, and a new $1.2 million, four-year demonstration grant the school was awarded last week by the federal Office of Indian Education to help fund it.

    From the 12/14/10 Journal: The approach to increasing Native graduation rates and test scores has evolved over the years at Central. The Lakolkiciyapi Room was established as a classroom several years ago to provide a smaller learning environment for students and to offer academic help.
  6. Pookdad
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    Pookdad - July 09, 2012 5:23 pm
    The room the are talking about is the Lakol room, it is not just for Natives I have seen all races in it. Although the majority that use it are Native, it is not for watching TV or stress reduction it is for tutoring and monitoring grades and progress. For stress relief most students go see a counselor.
  7. Rez parent
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    Rez parent - July 09, 2012 4:20 pm
    To "served": Pine Ridge High School had a total of 82 graduates this year. I watched these kids grow up and some struggled just to receive their diplomas. It's tough all over, not just in Rapid City, but I say more so in Rapid City, due to people with the same mindset as you. We DO NOT get handouts from the government and if we do, I have yet to receive mine. As far as "getting off the reservation", no thank you, because this is home!
  8. My10cents
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    My10cents - July 09, 2012 1:03 pm
    Why is it that there is a class room that only the Natives can go in when they are stressed? the Rapid City community has done so much for these people to help them and they still do not care enough to teach their youth how to suceed, i think its time to STOP all the hand outs, and help poor me.
  9. redbird825
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    redbird825 - July 09, 2012 12:58 pm
    As a teacher in the district, I can tell you what it takes for a student to graduate from high school. It takes desire to succeed, good attendance, and good family support and involvement in the student's education. The race of the student is not relevant.
    I also know that many other factors play a part. If the student cannot get to school, a reliable transportation system should be put into place because students cannot learn when they are not there. Free and low-cost food is available at the school so this issue can be addressed if students attend. There are also many tutoring and homework help options to address academic needs. Class sizes must be addressed at all levels, however, because the more students a teacher has to teach, the less opportunity there is for those important relationships to occur. Research will tell you that a student's success in high school is increased dramatically if the student has at least one good relationship with an adult role model in the school.
  10. babyboomer
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    babyboomer - July 09, 2012 9:42 am
    the headline is despicable...in a community where race relations are poor this headline feeds into this hatred...we raised four children in this community...two graduated from central and two did alternative education. now two have graduated from college and two will graduate in this next year and a half. looking back i knew as parents we had to stay connected to our kids and the schools..whether the school wanted our presence or not we were there. high school needs to be redesigned to meet the needs of kids who do not have the support or resources to get to school, have a place to live, have material essentials, and the school and community need to work together to provide employment and access to higher ed info. my little grandson attends horace man and it is a wonderful elementary school experience for him and his whole family. the school has a level of energy that is hard to ignore.
  11. Stanley2
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    Stanley2 - July 08, 2012 10:59 pm
    What embarrassing comments by Bettelyoun. What do we pay this guy? Class size doesn't matter? It's going to take time? Wait, let's lose another generation of kids???? The Superintendent needs to make changes, starting at the top.
  12. C-49
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    C-49 - July 08, 2012 9:28 pm
    Seriously? You truly believe it is about pensions? Go see what goes on in the Indian Ed office, the hard work and concern for the success of all our Native Students.
  13. clktss
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    clktss - July 08, 2012 8:11 pm
    I remember a story several years ago about Native Americans complaining that there was not enough classes being taught in schools that were about Native Americans and Native American History. I went to Central and took 3 classes where that was the main subject. It is a issue about getting kids to stay in school, kids of all races and their parents/gaurdians need to care more about it as well. The unfortunate thing is that most don't care, they didn't get a education and they don't care if their kids do either and then they blame it on the system.
  14. Dallas Cowboys Fan
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    Dallas Cowboys Fan - July 08, 2012 7:47 pm
    i don't get it? I know at Central HS there is a room where Native kids (only) can go to get 'away' from any pressure...TV's, and low stress items are waiting? No one else gets that? Why is this a race issue? Work hard and you will graduate. Happens every day around the nation.
  15. DisheartenedGBM
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    DisheartenedGBM - July 08, 2012 7:04 pm
    Pookdad, Unfortunately there are a lot more than three wonderful teachers who will not be returning in the fall.
  16. shunkaska
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    shunkaska - July 08, 2012 7:02 pm
    Why has Jr not adapted into the Rapid City School System, the Oceti Sakowin 7 Essential Understandings approved by the South Dakota Board of Regents? The Lakota language as a world language, immersion programs....my thoughts and prayers to the teachers in this district for a huge effort, dont give up these kids need you.
  17. blakhils
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    blakhils - July 08, 2012 3:33 pm
    Whether you are one of the 11% of native students that drop out or one of the 2.4% of non-native students that drop out, it is a big deal and equally important. We NEED smaller class sizes. To say that class size does not make a difference is ignoring common sense. Ofcourse we can form relationships with larger classes, but the individual communication that inspires and connects is severely limited. All this does not mean that we don't need to recognize particular strategies based on poverty, ethnicity, culture, ability, or other things that create specific need. We do. We simply need smaller class sizes to make it work. Anyone who disagrees, I ask you this: Have you ever hosted a child's birthday party with six kids? When you were finished, could you imagine trying it with 30? While I don't suggest class sizes of 6 or even 16, I do know first hand that we impact lives in a less meaningful way when our communication is reduced. State of SD, you can and should hold summits and collect data, but until you put that information into priorities, the results will not be satisfactory.
  18. luther
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    luther - July 08, 2012 2:57 pm
    Bettelyoun says it takes time? Things haven't changed for 50 years! isn't time up. Quit making excuses Rapid City District.
  19. luther
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    luther - July 08, 2012 2:55 pm
    As a teacher in RC we're told to go to where the students are, not fit the kids in To what we think. The Indian Ed Director is a guy who only cares about his third pension, not the dropout rate.
  20. Pookdad
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    Pookdad - July 08, 2012 2:55 pm
    I agree with Ms Swanson, relationships are important are important with students. If you have overcrowding then it makes it difficult to build relationships. Also studies have shown that students who fall behind in kindergarten are still trying to catch up in fifth grade. Our local, national and especially state governments have become penny wise and dollar foolish, we cut some staff positions that interact with students to save thousands and will it cost us millions ten years down the road.
  21. served
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    served - July 08, 2012 2:27 pm
    Why is it such a big deal for Native students to finish high school? It's EXPECTED for white students to finish high school. If Native parents don't think school is important, then the students won't think school is important. We need a few more examples like the article that the RCJ ran on Ashley on Father's day--the natives need to get their education and get off the reservation and the government needs to quite giving them hand-outs!
  22. Pookdad
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    Pookdad - July 08, 2012 11:22 am
    I am not sure our community and school administrators see the big picture. This year General Beadle had thirty students in each of their kindergarten class, these are students that may need the most support academically and we crowd them together. This is twice the number of students that should be in a kindergarten class. We keep inept or unneeded administrators instead of hiring teachers. All three of these wonderful teachers will be gone from Beadle next year, who can blame them? A good start in grade school will lead to better grad rates.
  23. Adam
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    Adam - July 08, 2012 10:16 am
    Class size does play a very big role in student success, and this has been proven with statistics year after year. The said part is, South Dakota and Rapid City refuse to accept the facts. Large classes burn teachers out, and cause undo stress for both students and teachers. Like most school systems Rapid City needs to provide reliable inner-city transportation to all students to ensure they can arrive on time.
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