Wookiye pilot schools chosen for S.D. project

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Office of Indian Education has selected three schools to help lead an effort to strengthen teaching in South Dakota K-12 districts about indigenous peoples.

They are Georgia Morse Middle School in the Pierre school district, Timber Lake district and the Smee district at Wakpala.

The state office’s director, Juliana White Bull-Taken Alive, told the South Dakota Board of Education Standards about the effort during a teleconference meeting Monday.

The Bush Foundation agreed to fund the Wookiye Project, she said, and it has approval from state Tribal Relations Secretary Dave Flute, in collaboration with state Education Secretary Ben Jones.

Governor Kristi Noem moved the Indian education office to the state Department of Tribal Relations last year. The office previously was in the state Department of Education.

White Bull-Taken Alive said Monday she continues to work with the state Department of Education.

Also involved are the South Dakota Indian Education Advisory Council and Joe Moran, director of policy and strategic initiatives for the state Education Department.

The Wookiye Project is “really organic,” White Bull-Taken Alive said. “It’s not spelled out in concrete terms by any means.”

The goal is to broaden and deepen use by K-12 schools throughout South Dakota of the state Education Department’s program known Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards that focuses on the region’s Native American culture and traditions.

White Bull-Taken Alive described her three goals for the Wookiye Project as it rolls out during a three-year period:

— Develop teams of five teachers at each of the three school districts, plus five teachers statewide, who can serve as contacts and advisers for other school districts on Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings;

— Identify resources and show successful examples of teachers using OSEU in their schools; and

— Expand South Dakota’s mentoring program so that veteran teachers can more effectively deliver OSEU lessons.

The Legislature in 2007 required that teachers complete a three-hour course in Indian studies in order to be certified in South Dakota. State law also requires the advisory council to consult with the state Education Department on OSEU.

The two state departments and a third organization, TIE, rolled out a previous effort known as the WoLakota Project in 2013.

White Bull-Taken Alive was named director for South Dakota’s state office last May. She told the board Monday she previously oversaw an effort somewhat similar to the Wookiye Project for schools on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The reservation overlaps a central portion of the shared border of South Dakota and North Dakota, with tribal headquarters at Fort Yates, N.D.

She said Wookiye training is scheduled for August 3-7 in Pierre.

Joe Moran told the state board Monday that an indigenous-needs assessment meanwhile will gather a better understanding of how South Dakota teachers use Oceti Sakowin curriculum and help identify successes that can be showcased.

He said there’s also a plan to highlight the bright spots of what’s working in the schools in Indian country, rather than again delivering a report only on Indian country school districts’ student-assessment scores that overall lag the statewide scores.

“We want to know what is working from the people on the ground,” Moran said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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