Native American dropout rates higher in Rapid City

Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) July 2012

Native American students are dropping out of Rapid City schools at a higher rate than their peers in other South Dakota districts, an analysis of South Dakota Department of Education records by the Rapid City Journal found.

In the Rapid City Area Schools district, Native American students dropped out of school at a rate of 10.6 percent last year compared to rates of 6.2 percent in Sioux Falls and 5.3 percent in Aberdeen, the story published ( ) found.

Roger Campbell, director of the South Dakota Office of Indian Education, said Native American dropout rates have long been a focus of his office but have risen to the forefront of late. He said he’ll be in Rapid City in August for a Native American education summit to help look for answers.

The summit, organized with the Rapid City district, will bring together schools in the state that have had success in improving graduation rates among Native American students and in decreasing the achievement gap, said Jr. Bettelyoun, director of Indian Education in Rapid City.

“Sometimes we take for granted our students are dropping out for reasons beyond our control,” Bettelyoun said. “I also think there are some things we can do within our school environment to help keep kids in school.”

Campbell said schools with large Native American student populations will be invited to bring their success stories to the summit, and he hopes districts can benefit from each other.

“We will be gathering some of those best practice models that are making a difference,” he said.

Educators also will address the challenges of improving the rates, something that can’t be discussed without acknowledging the complex socioeconomic challenges those students face.

Shannon County, a district located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, had a lower dropout rate than Rapid City in 2011 at 6.2 percent. Todd County, inside the Rosebud Indian Reservation, had a dropout rate higher than Rapid City at 11.5 percent.

The statewide dropout rates are 6.6 percent for Native American students and 1.8 percent for all students.

In 2011, less than 52 percent of Native American students in the district graduated from their school – a drop from 54 percent in 2009. The rates are an improvement over 2007, when graduation rates for Native American students were just 40 percent.

Statewide, the graduation rate for Native American students in 2011 was 57.1 percent compared with 85.9 percent for all students.

Bettelyoun said the first step to improving the numbers is getting students to use the programs already in place.

For example, Credit Recovery, started as a summer program in 2011, allows students to finish classes they may have fallen behind in without retaking the entire course. The program will now be incorporated year-round.