Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009   Volume 2

Success Academy a model for Native American education
By Jomay Steen

Condensed by Native Village


South Dakota: A unique curriculum, 300 professional staff, and collaboration with a state university is improving retention rates at one of the oldest Native American boarding schools in South Dakota.

Success Academy, an early and intensive college preparation program, is meeting success at the Flandreau Indian School as well as South Dakota State University at Brookings.

The program was created to keep Flandreau freshmen in school and improve academic achievement. Flandreau serves students from 30 different states and 60 different tribes. 250 of those students are enrolled in the Academy each year. With assistance from 300 SDSU faculty, Success Academy has become SDSU's premier diversity program .

The academy follows each class through grades 9-12 and creates a welcoming and comfortable setting at both  Flandreau campus and SDSU.

"It has helped to retain kids in our high school," said counselor Zonya Franklin.

Before Success Academy, about five graduates per year completed grades 9-12.  Four years later, 40 graduating seniors had attended FIS for all four years of high school.

Success Academy Coordinator Mary Jo Benton Lee said students typically made choices too late about attending a post-secondary school.

"We send the message to freshmen that the time to plan is now. We plant those ideas early and we keep those students on the academic path," she said.

Of the 28 FIS Success Academy graduates, six have transferred to other colleges and five are now at SDSU,. That 39% retention rate nearly equals that of Native colleges nationwide. "Before that, we had about one student per year from Flandreau. It's what we want to work on now," Lee said.

For grade 9, Success Academy features hands-on workshops in seven academic colleges on the SDSU campus. Students learn about college subjects and careers and which ones tribal leaders identify as the most  critically needed in their communities.

In 10th grade, students identify interest areas, then attend four focus days that include the military, health, physical education and recreation, the arts and American Indian Studies. Dinners hosted by the SDSU Native American Club introduce SA students to college students who become positive role models and mentors.

During 11th grade, students receive a four-session program called "Preparing for College, Native Style!"  Retired SDSU faculty members serve as academic parents, helping mentor the high school students as they prepare to enroll in  college. Academic parents lunch with the students, listen to their hopes and fears, and provide mentoring.   They even write to them over the summer.

"This is where the rubber meets the road," Lee said.

In Grade 12, SDSU offers 10 FIS seniors a scholarship. During the year,  the seniors will earn six college credits in basic writing and math courses. They will also complete college applications, apply for financial aid, take the ACT test, visit departments in which they will major and attend pre-orientation day in April designed especially for Native students.

"Once they have completed Success Academy, the students feel pretty comfortable at SDSU," Lee said.


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