Language Immersion Program on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

For a number of years, leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, located in both North and South Dakota, have been deeply involved in efforts to revitalize the traditional language and culture of the tribe. A large step in the process is being taken through a new language immersion program funded by the Administration for Native Americans (ANA). The Wičhákini Owáyawa program extends instruction already provided to preschool children into classes for children who are entering into kindergarten and early elementary grades. Based at Sitting Bull College, a tribal college located in Fort Yates, North Dakota, the classes are designed to meet North Dakota academic standards as well as impart the knowledge of Lakota/Dakota language and culture. According to the Tribal Education Department, the Wičhákini Owáyawa program will help to ensure that the tribe’s “sacred children possess the capacity for dual language that will preserve and strengthen [the] Standing Rock Oyate (Nation).”

In the current academic year, the program has established a language and culture immersion classroom for kindergarten and first grade students. In the two subsequent years of the grant, another classroom will be created for second and third graders. Teachers in the program receive extensive professional development in research-based instructional strategies and are also guided in lesson planning and development by a Curriculum Director. To support the use of language and culture in the home environment, the program requires parents and guardians to participate in Family Language Learning classes, taught by a team of several teachers. Both children and family members directly involved in the program take regular assessments to measure progress in language proficiency.

RMC Research is conducting a mixed methods formative and summative evaluation to assess program impacts on students, teachers, parents, and community members. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups are being used to provide detailed information about appropriate training and support for teachers; the acquisition of Lakota language skills by students and family members; program satisfaction; factors that facilitate and impede success; and areas for improvement. All protocols were developed in conjunction with Wičhákini Owáyawa and Tribal Department of Education staff and will be used to collect data from classrooms, teachers, family members, school/tribal administrators.