Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the age of Brokenleg's daughter. It also misstated the timing of district-wide OSO teachers at the elementary level. These teachers have been in place district-wide prior to this year.
Simplified: Anna Brokenleg has been a teacher in the Sioux Falls School District for 15 years. But now, she's in a special role focused on helping Native American kids succeed.
Why it matters
- Brokenleg grew up in Sioux Falls and went through the public school system herself. She knows firsthand what it's like to be a Native American student in that environment, and, while she's seen the culture improve over the years, she wants to create a better experience for kids in school today (including her eldest daughter, who's in Kindergarten).
- Native American students have significantly lower graduation rates – 36 percent compared to 86 percent district-wide – and perform worse than nearly every other racial group in statewide standardized tests.
- The district serves more than 2,000 Native American students, Brokenleg said, and she wants to remove barriers for those kids and help them feel welcome at school.
"You have to start looking at it not just as a drop-out rate but as a push-out rate," Brokenleg said. "So something within our system was actually pushing Native students out. And so I think we had to really think and evaluate what was missing for our Native students that was creating such a huge barrier to them reaching graduation."
What are Brokenleg's goals?
Put simply: To help Native American kids succeed by infusing their education with Indigenous culture and language.
She's also working to engage more parents through the district's Indian Education Parent Committee.
And, she's looking for more community engagement. The district has already done some work with the S.D. Urban Indian Health office in town.
What's been done so far?
Sioux Falls has Oceti Sakowin Owauspe (OSO) facilitators at every elementary school. In past years, these teachers have also been called Native American Connections facilitators.
- Some buildings even have tribal clubs for kids to join.
The district also has either OSO or Native American Connections classes – which teach history, culture and Lakota/Dakota languages – in every middle and high school for the first time this year.
- Students in high school can also take Lakota/Dakota languages to satisfy language requirements for graduation.
What happens next? (And how to help)
Brokenleg's work as a special assignment teacher continues for another year.
She's looking to make more community connections, especially with Native American parents in the district.
She's also partnering with local universities in a pilot program this year to help Native American students explore their post-grad options.
How to help? Brokenleg is looking for some more donations to help fund the high school honor ceremony this spring.
- She also encourages people to spend some time looking at the state's Oceti Sakowin standards to gain a better understanding of the Native people and culture.