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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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Chapter 2: Honoring Ethnic Identity and Freshman “Fridays at State” 34


Success Academy began as a one-semester program for all 100 freshmen at the Flandreau Indian School, and this chapter explains the first-year activities. All fresh- men come to the South Dakota State University campus for six Friday visits throughout the academic year. During the afternoons students rotate through hands-on workshops in all six of SDSU’s academic colleges (Engineering, Pharmacy, Nursing, Arts and Sciences, Education and Human Sciences, and Agriculture and Biological Sciences). Success Academy workshops expose stu- dents not only to college but also to the careers open to college graduates. As critical educators, our task is to develop ways in which Native students’ identities are affirmed, honored, and incorporated not only into the Success Academy programming but also into the larger university culture. In other words, rather than trying to change the students into people who could presumably suc- ceed in the university, we instead try to change the university into a place where these students can succeed. In this way we strive to open admission and ensure suc- cess for those previously excluded from higher education. Theory, in this case critical theory, must be linked to action to bring about change. Therefore, Chapter 2 focuses on telling how ethnic identity is honored in each and every aspect of Freshman Fridays at State—primarily in workshops, but also in the meals and co-curricular activities that follow. Comments from partic- 2 Honoring Ethnic Identity and Freshman “Fridays at State” b_text_t5 8/21/2013 7:55 AM Page 34 ipants—most...

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