MISSION, S.D. (KELO) – A new school on the Rosebud Reservation is teaching students their lessons in Lakota.

Sage Fast Dog is the head of the Lakota immersion school.

“This is Wakanyeja Tokeyahci, the meaning is children first,” head of Wakanyeja Tokeyahci, Sage Fast Dog said.

The first group of students, who are kindergarteners, started the school year virtually back in August.

“We know that to have an effective immersion school that we have to start with our youngest first and then build up from there, so that’s the plan as we roll out, we will then bring 12 more students next year in the fall of 2021,” Fast Dog said.

Right now, the school is sharing a space with the Boys and Girls Club of Rosebud in Mission.

“We do about four Zoom sessions a day, so some of them are a whole group and then some are individual Zooms,” kindergarten educator, Shanice Nez said. “We currently only have nine students but we want them to get as much support and participation that they need so we often split them up between the three of us.”

“The medium language for instruction here is Lakota, so it’s all day, you’ll learn your math in Lakota, you’ll learn social studies in Lakota, you’ll learn science in Lakota,” Fast Dog said.

Educators say this is a way to help preserve the Lakota language.

“There’s a lot of people out there on Rosebud that are speakers, but are losing it because there’s nobody to talk to,” Lakota educator, Jacqueline White Bird said. “When we are working everyday I constantly ask students to keep practicing, this is how we are going to learn how to do stuff, you become more confident as you practice.”

“We have to prepare our kids to carry those values, and carry the language, and the practices that are within the culture,” Fast Dog said.

Fast Dog says they hope to start in-person teaching by the end of the month. He says the goal for the school is to eventually be kindergarten through 5th grade, introducing about 12 students each year.