RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been almost a year since the start of the Lakota Immersion pilot program in Rapid City.

The School District started it in hopes of increasing the graduation success rate amongst indigenous students.

Kyrie Big Eagle is a Kindergartener in the Lakota Immersion Program.

His mother, Valeriah, says things are going very well.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed is that learning another language does something to bring development for him. It just feels like he’s learning much quicker than his sisters did and I know there is research that adds to this,” Valeriah Big Eagle, parent, said.

Since the beginning of the year, Valeriah says Kyrie, has been excited about school.

“He is a really happy child. And before, he really struggled when it came to the Y and preschool and he’s really happy now because he can be who he is,” Valeriah said.

Whether it’s learning math and reading or the Lakota Culture, these teachers are covering it all.

Adrian Primeaux is the Lakota Immersion teacher. He teaches all of the regular subjects in the Lakota language.

“Having an opportunity like this will definitely increase those odds for these kids as far as retention rate, as for as success rates for sure,” Adrian Primeaux, Lakota Immersion Teacher, said.

Just like any pilot program, Primeaux says there were a few challenges right away. Including staffing and because this program is completely new to the Rapid City Area Schools, teachers, like Primeaux, are learning as they go.

However, he says things are running smoothly as the students and teachers get familiarized with the program.

“But we have definitely come far from the beginning of the year for these students and for myself from the beginning of the year to now, I’ve definitely learned a lot of what works well and what doesn’t work well,” Primeaux said.

“Here in this community we have a lot of rough spots, but there is a lot of good things going on. So just watching the kids’ eyes light up when they are learning about the language and speaking it,” Cross White said.

Sequoia Cross White is the Language and Culture teacher. He teaches all students at Canyon Lake Elementary about the Lakota Culture.

“Within my classes, I’m given a limited amount of time but I get to work with all the kids. So my goal is to make awareness. I want to be the spark to light up the flame to keep the language going on,” Cross White said.

Principal David Swank says each year the program will expand so more students have the opportunity to learn in the Lakota language.

“Our long term goal is to produce fluent speakers by the end of elementary school and having the program expand by one grade level every year, allows the students who started this year to have that experience all the way through their elementary experience and also for a whole new batch of students to join every year,” Principal David Swank, Canyon Lake Elem., said.

Next year’s kindergarten class is already at capacity.

“I’m really excited for the future of the program because we did learn so much this year about curriculum, about how to prepare students, what does language acquisition look like in Kindergarten, all of those things were challenges this year that I think we are better prepared for next year and I really think we are going to see this program take off,” Swank said.

So that families, like the Big Eagles, have a better chance at a successful future.

“We want to integrate our culture and our language. We want to do these things to address that achievement gap, increase graduation rates so that one day you can and you will go to college and do all of those things, and be who you are,” Valeriah said.

This year’s Kindergarten class for the Lakota Immersion Program has about 14 students. Next year’s Kindergarten class will be at capacity with about 20 students.