Sioux Falls effort aims to help Indian students with new curriculum

Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) June 2010

School officials in Sioux Falls plan to include American Indian culture in the elementary curriculum in an effort to improve the classroom performance of Indian students.

Administrators say they hope to replicate the success of a similar effort in Montana that they say produced significant gains in math and reading test scores.

The Sioux Falls School District already has stand-alone Native American Connections classes at the middle and high schools. The elementary school program that will be developed over the next two years will be different, incorporating Indian history and traditions into regular classes.

School Board member Doug Morrison said it makes sense to extend the efforts into the elementary grades.

“The earlier we can get to them, the better,” he said. “If we’re going to make inroads here we need to get into the elementary schools.”

Gail Swenson, who oversees the district’s Office of Indian Education, said students do better academically when they feel connected to the school. She expects providing more classroom materials and activities with elements of Native American culture will make those students more interested.

“Once you get a novel that’s engaging for you, you’re going to read it,” she said. “Any reading they do is naturally going to help their reading scores.”

A committee will spend the next school year updating social studies, language arts and fine arts materials. A review of the math and science curriculum will take place the following year.

The Office of Indian Education also will create a list of people in the community who can give classroom presentations, and promote outside activities to students and families.