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Success Academy

How Native American Students Prepare for College (and How Colleges Can Prepare for Them)


Mary Jo Benton Lee

Picture two very different schools: one, a federal Indian boarding school emphasizing vocational training, where few graduates attend college. The other – its neighbor – an overwhelmingly white, land-grant university.
These two schools had little to no contact, until an innovative initiative turned things around. In the fall of 2000, the Flandreau Indian School began a reform effort, Success Academy, aimed at preparing all of its students for postsecondary education. Over the next decade South Dakota State University responded by committing 300 of its faculty and staff and $85,000 of its annual budget to opening the doors of higher education to Indian students who had previously been excluded.
The traditional way of increasing college access for students of color is through remediation, that is, through attempting to «fix» those presumed to be unprepared for higher learning. What sets Success Academy apart is that the educators involved chose instead to «fix» both their institutions, institutions that were actually preventing Indian students from entering college. Throughout all aspects of Success Academy programming, students’ American Indian identities are affirmed, honored – and incorporated into school culture. Ethnicity matters in each and every aspect of Success Academy.


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Acknowledgments ix


For all that has been—Thanks. For all that will be—Yes! These words of the great peacemaker Dag Hammarskjöld resonate with me, hav- ing been given the opportunity to tell a story about a project close to my heart. The Flandreau Indian School-South Dakota State University Success Academy has filled my life and the lives of those around me for more than a decade. For all that has been—my thanks are boundless. I would first like to thank my Success Academy students. Thank you for shar- ing a part of your life with me. Together we have learned that there are no failures, only early attempts at success. I love you all. This book is for you. To the visionary educators from the Flandreau Indian School—Superintendent Betty Belkham, Principal Stuart Zephier, Success Academy Principal Sandra Koester Elenkiwich, and Librarian/Teacher Susan Mendelsohn—who asked South Dakota State University to partner with them in a bold, new endeavor that was to become Success Academy—thank you for 12 years of being both giving and forgiving. Thank you to the generous South Dakota State University administrators who said “yes” and made Success Academy a reality with their unwavering support for so many years. Marcus Dahn, director of diversity enhancement, drafted the first Memorandum of Understanding, and President Peggy Gordon Miller signed it into Acknowledgments a_fm_t5 8/21/2013 7:56 AM Page ix being. Executive Vice President for Administration Michael P. Reger provided the initial funding. For many years,...

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