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Sioux City community organization aims to reduce Native American student dropouts

People gather around the Urban Native Center during the annual march for children lost to the foster care system. Now, the center is trying to curb American Indian drop out rates in the Sioux City school district.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
People gather around the Urban Native Center during the annual march for children lost to the foster care system. Now, the center is trying to curb American Indian drop out rates in the Sioux City school district.

Sioux City’s Urban Native Center is offering cash incentives for Native students to encourage them to graduate high school.

The center’s youth coordinators hope it can help address the disproportionate rate of American Indian drop-outs in the Sioux City Community school district. From 2011 to 2021, Native American students consisted of nearly 7 percent of the district’s dropouts. But, they only make up around 3 percent of the district’s population.

The low graduation rates concern Kenneth Provost, the cultural coordinator at the center. He himself dropped out of high school his senior year. He said it wasn’t until a similar program by the American Indian Council offered him $500 to get his GED that he understood the importance of a diploma.

“I was able to take on certain positions because I had my GED,” he said. “Then I went back to school. It's all about that diploma to get you where you want to be and where you need to be.”

Provost said the center will cater the incentives to each young person. For one student who likes video games, he said they’re offering a Play Station 5 alongside the cash bonus. Students who sign up for the program can also receive money for good grades, school attendance and choosing to attend college.

He said he hopes it serves as an extra boost of motivation for those who may be struggling.

“These kids are going to see these incentives and they're going to want to be a part of it because they're gonna want that shirt out at Foot Locker, they're going to want to go and see movies,” he said.

Statewide, American Indians had a drop out rate of 7 percent last school year – the highest of any group. Alongside Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, it’s one of two population groups whose graduation rate has decreased since 2011.

Lisa Casey stands in her office at North High School in Sioux City. She said it's emotional to hand Native students their diplomas.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Lisa Casey stands in her office at North High School in Sioux City. She said it's emotional to hand Native students their diplomas.

As a student support specialist at North High School, Lisa Casey works with students to identify what they need to make it to graduation. She said it’s emotional to watch Native students overcome the odds and get their diploma.

“There was a time when we worked really hard on a student,” she said. “And when he got his diploma, I cried.I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I just cannot believe how proud of this kid I am.’”

As a part of the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, she can understand the barriers in the community to graduation. She dropped out of high school when she became pregnant. She said historical trauma often hinders many students from seeking help.

“We were told you can't speak your native language. We were told we’re going to take you from your families. It's just always been a dictatorship is how I felt,” she said. “So, it's really hard for us to ask someone for help.”

"It's all about that diploma to get you where you want to be and where you need to be.”
Kenny Provost, cultural coordinator at the Urban Native Center

Jasiah Flowers graduated from North High School last year. He said it didn’t realize how low his Indigenous peers’ graduation rates were until he began working with the center.

“It was kind of heartbreaking to hear and kind of sad to hear,” he said. “But we're just here to try to bring that number up a little bit.”

Provost said he feels the center’s youth outreach is already making an impact on students in the district. He said he’s most excited to see more kids embrace Native culture.

“It's starting to happen every day. Boys are wearing some really awesome ribbon shirts. Girls are wearing some really beautiful ribbon skirts,” he said. “And to just be Indigenous and proud is coming about.”

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.