Art Education students Kylee Mitchell and Mackenzie Guice took the adventure of a lifetime when they completed a portion of their student teaching on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota.
“I wanted a transcultural experience with high poverty, but within the U.S.,” said Belinda Harlow, associate professor of education, who was instrumental in landing the student teaching placements through a partnership with Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college on the reservation. “Native American reservations represent an underserved population with separate and unique cultures, a drastic history and segregation that is still prevalent, and immersion for my students in a setting they often didn’t know existed within our country. There is Third World-type poverty. The experience is unique.”
The Pine Ridge Reservation occupies parts of Jackson and Bennett counties and the entirety of Oglala Lakota County, which has the lowest per-capita income of any county in the United States, according to Re-Member, a nonprofit organization that works with the Oglala Lakota Nation.
Kylee and Mackenzie were the first Bellarmine students to teach on the reservation since an inaugural team went in 2014.
On their first eye-opening day at Little Wound Elementary School, they learned more about the culture and about possible activities they would be able to complete with students. After discovering there was a lack of art supplies for elementary students, they decided to take action.
Kylee and Mackenzie put together a fundraiser to fund the purchase and outfitting of an art cart that would be donated to the school following their departure. They raised more than half their goal in less than a day. Kylee and Mackenzie also designed two large, collaborative art projects for the lower and upper elementary schools.
Lower elementary students colored individual feathers to put on a mural inspired by the “What Lifts You?” movement by Kelsey Montague. The individual feathers were fashioned into wings that were put on display behind the stage at the school. Little Wound students then took their picture with the wings and wrote about the various things that “lift” them up.
Upper elementary students worked with Kylee and Mackenzie to create scenes that depicted their cultural values. Those scenes were then transferred onto the stalls of the upper elementary bathrooms. This project was a special request of Theresa Mendoza, the principal of Little Wound Elementary, to foster respect for school property. Students helped to design and paint the scenes.
Kylee and Mackenzie said what struck them the most during their time at Little Wound was the students’ enthusiastic approach to art. The Lakota culture is strongly rooted in the arts, so when students picked up a crayon, paint brush or scissors, they were completely enamored. “We have never seen anything like it before,” they said. This only motivated them more to raise money for the art cart.
Kylee and Mackenzie left behind art materials and lesson plans for classroom teachers to integrate into their regular routines. They hope to go back to visit and possibly continue a partnership with Little Wound as well.