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Hot Springs Schools Superintendent Kevin Coles, teacher Doug Gaulke and South Dakota Community Foundation West River development and program officer Beth Massa pass the check.

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Effort intends to build bridges between cultures

HOT SPRINGS – Hot Springs High School teacher Doug Gaulke was busy building his home on Argyle Road – he just finished putting the roof on – earlier this year when the South Dakota Community Foundation announced that Hot Springs School District won a Community Innovation Grant for $10,000.

The grant is designed to bridge the racial disparity gap within the school district’s course offerings, staff and institutional culture. And Gaulke wrote the application that earned the grant money.

This grant will “create a panel of concerned administrators, faculty and parents to discuss and propose solutions to the issue of racial disparity within the school district’s course offerings, staff and institutional culture.” Three solutions will be implemented, including: community outreach, student cultural advocacy/education and integration, and staff training in cultural awareness, according to the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF).

“We’re excited about an opportunity to promote Native American language and culture,” said School Superintendent Kevin Coles. “This is a great chance to move forward.”

Gaulke, in the grant proposal, noted, “The problem that we have identified in our community involves a large racial disparity that is over 125 years old. Even while 158 Lakota students attend our school district, they were not given the opportunity to learn their own language, history, or art until August of 2015. Besides a brief overview of Native Americans in U.S. History classes, Lakota and Non-Native children have not been educated about the rich history and culture that the Lakota people have maintained within South Dakota for thousands of years. This has fueled resentment and subsequently permeates the community.”

“Within our schools,” he writes, “racially-based student conflict does arise yet is rarely addressed in a meaningful manner. Unfortunately, due to a nearly non-existent Native American teacher base within our school district, cultural insensitivity is commonplace among teacher/student interactions. Even well-meaning educators find themselves lacking the necessary skills to overcome deficient personal worldviews. In October of 2014, a small panel of concerned administrators and faculty conducted a meeting to discuss the issue of racial disparity within the context of our school district’s course offerings, staff, and institutional culture. A consensus was formed that in order to increase the collective understanding of the problem of racism within our school district, more stakeholders needed to be involved.”

“Shortly after this meeting our Indian Education Parent Committee was formed in order to include broader community involvement and generate meaningful ideas,” the grant proposal continues. “Through this collaboration, three main solutions were highlighted as the most promising. The first solution of community outreach was suggested in order to inform, educate, and engage more of the community. Secondly, the fostering of student cultural advocacy/education was seen as paramount in order to ensure that Native American students’ cultures and identities are considered when developing school courses, curricula, and special programs. Lastly, the implementation of staff training was viewed as an essential method to develop cultural awareness during existing school district in-service days and regional professional development opportunities. We intend to test these solutions and expand the number of those involved in our on-going process. It is our belief that the process we have embarked upon within our school district and community will act as a sounding board for change and inspiration. It is our hope that long held cultural divisions within our community will begin to mend through this model for community innovation.”

Gaulke explained the program further Wednesday, July 13.

“I wrote it (the grant application) to focus on teaching kids the language, and adding some cultural things to this – getting guest speakers, Lakota elders, to come in,” he said. “It is a three pronged approach – teaching the kids, educating the staff to bridge the cultural gap and understand each other, and a community outreach, like the adult language class. We want to build support within the community.”

The $10,000 will fund the creation of all of this, including:

•Learning resources, books and language materials for students.

•Community outreach – Additional adult education classes that teach Lakota language and culture. For example, Hot Springs High School offered adult education classes in Lakota earlier this year, each Thursday evening from 6 – 8 p.m., from March 10 – April 28. Funding for more of this type of class is included in the grant.

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•Staff training – The school will send two teachers to the Lakota Summer Institute, held in June at Sitting Bull College in Ft. Yates, North Dakota, and run by the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC). The Institute is billed as the “premier Lakota and Dakota language teacher professional development event in the nation,” by LLC. Since 2007, more than 250 teachers from eight reservations and six states have participated in three-week immersion into the language and culture. During 2016, the 10th anniversary of the Institute, more than 100 additional participants shared the experience, earning college credits at the same time.

“Teacher training has been a hot topic for the last 30 years,” Gaulke said. “There are (Lakota) speakers left, but the difficulty is to create learning like a person would have if they grew up in a home speaking Lakota in a classroom setting.” This teacher training should help with this.

Gaulke, Coles said, will be running the “Indian Education Parent Program.”

According to SCDF’s Beth Massa, with the West River Development Office in Rapid City, the Grant committee, made up of volunteer board members, really liked the fact that Hot Springs High School is being proactive in order to address the issues and build bridges in the relationship between native people and non-natives

Massa said the grant will give the school the materials and supplies to address these issues, keep the kids engaged and coming to school.

“That is the foremost thing,” she said.

She also lauded Gaulke for his effort in writing the grant.

“How great is it that a teacher took it upon himself to write the grant for this. This was very impressive,” she said. “Our grants are not labor intensive, but you have to prepare and budget and other things. What he is doing is wonderful to help deal with issues and help kids protect their rich traditions.”

The $10,000 grant was one of four grants issued by SDCF in the West River region. The others were:

Community Services Connections of the Black Hills, in Rapid City, received $1,000 to connect community members with the resources to support proactive aging, including housing options, home modifications, preplanning, legal and financial issues, retirement options and volunteer opportunities.

Custer Economic Development Corporation in Custer received $10,000 to collaborate with the city, the Chamber of Commerce and citizens to “strengthen community vitality and economic growth through civic engagement.”

Hope in Life, of Rapid City, received $8,305 to address suicide among youth and young adults at the Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center through a suicide-prevention curriculum and support group.

SDCF partners with the Bush Foundation in order to off Community Innovation Grants. These are more selective grants that focus on specifically supporting community problem-solving projects. A total of $400,000 was available to award in 2016 through the Community Innovation program and other grants.

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