Grants available for public schools through the South Dakota Civics and History initiative Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Department of Education has $200,000 available for public schools to participate in a pilot project for an initiative to strengthen civics and history knowledge in schools.

“There is not a definite number of schools as a goal,” DOE Secretary Tiffany Sanderson said.

Schools can apply for a grant if a social studies teacher wants to work with a museum curator to learn more about South Dakota history or if a district wants to help students organize a legislative forum, Sanderson said.

The state will be reviewing the standards content for history and social studies in 2021 and 2022.

Sanderson said the emphasis on South Dakota history will be a subset of the content review.

The pilot program isn’t designed as a one-size fits all for all public schools, Sanderson said.

“The pilot program is funding for the short term,” Sanderson said. The $200,000 grant money is part of a $900,000 allotment for the initiative.

As of April 15, two of the state’s largest school districts are not interested in applying for grants to participate in the pilot project, representatives of each district said.

The Rapid City School District will not be pursuing a grant, said Katy Urban, the district’s public information manager.

The Sioux Falls district will not be applying. The district will continue to use its curriculum that meets state standards, said Carly Uthe, who works in communications for the school district.

For some districts, this year may not be the time to participate in a pilot program while it may be the best time for others because they may be looking at making changes in their history and social studies programs, Sanderson said.

Public schools that apply for a grant must meet the one of more of the civics and South Dakota criteria listed on the DOE website:

  1. Support and increase the capacity of K-12 educators, including at the elementary school level
  2. Provide high-quality, standards-aligned resources for voluntary use in local schools
  3. Provide real-life experiences for students
  4. Foster students who appreciate our country, state and story
  5. Increase students’ knowledge and experience so they can engage as informed citizens
  6. Grow students’ ability to participate in civil discourse on important issues

Districts must apply by May 3.

The school pilot program is one of the pieces of the initiative. Three other pieces include South Dakota materials development, professional development and instructional materials review.

The initiative to strengthen civics and South Dakota history instruction in public schools won’t replace student learning about world history or U.S. history, Sanderson said.

The emphasis on South Dakota history is now in the fourth grade, Sanderson said. How that emphasis and instruction could continue beyond fourth grade or before fourth grade is part of the discussion, Sanderson said.

Two overall outcomes listed in a January presentation to the Legislature were “students who appreciate our country, state and our story and students with experience to engage as informed citizens.”

Gov. Kristi Noem said in an April 8 DOE news release about the pilot grants, “Students should be taught our nation’s history and all that makes America unique. They should see the importance of civic engagement firsthand. These grants are a crucial step towards demonstrating to our students why the United States is the most special nation in the history of the world.”

Sanderson said those outcomes may be difficult to measure in a traditional sense but one of the goals would be to have students leave the K-12 system prepared to be leaders and those who understand the importance of community engagement.

After Noem announced the initiative plan on Jan. 12, it was seen by some educators and others as a criticism of South Dakota teachers. Others raised concerns about it leading to instructing students about overt patriotism and only certain aspects of history.

Since then, Sanderson said she and others from the DOE have met with educators, administrators and others in education to talk about concerns and share ideas. Those discussions have led to items included in the initiative, she said.

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