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Lakota Country Times

Family literacy project promotes reading in home

All year, and especially this month, Amanda and I have been buzzing around the rez meeting with school boards and administrators and teachers concerning our three-year-old Family Literacy Project. It hasn't been easy as most school boards meet in the early evening but Amanda and I have made a commitment to this important project and we intend to tell everyone we can about it.

What is our project? It's a project that involves the Lakota Country Times, local public and reservation schools, and most important, families of school-age children.

Actually the families are the most important people affected, because this project brings them something they have never had before, a local newspaper that brings them 'positive' lakota culture, lakota language, lakota values and lakota pride.

NCLB student reading scores have become one of the most talked about topics in both local and national schools today. The ability to read, as well as the "want" to read, have been steadily declining.

It's no different here in Indian Country. Parents want "Positive" lakota news that would make their families "want" to sit down together and read, and talk, and promote literacy in their own families?

Most Native American homes lack reading materials and local schools have remained a primary source of reading material for these families. Okay, this takes care of students while they are at school, but what happens to them once they arrive home?

Is there really anything the students and their families can sit down to each week and read "alone or together" that will promote their self-esteem? That will give them joy and make them proud that they are lakota? Think lakota? Speak lakota?

The answer has sadly been-NO! There has always been that negative news out there telling the lakota people what's wrong with them, who is in trouble with the law again, and how many times.

The printed news of what is happening in the local white community papers has little to do with local lakota families, the way they live their lives in their Indian communities, and family tiospayes. our students deserve better!

It’s easy to print no-brainer, negative lakota news. It takes a lot of work to print the tons and tons of positve and cultural lakota news!

Amanda and I have worked hard to step in and fill this empty void. Why can't Native American children and family members have a newspaper they can relate to? If it's so important for these students and families to "want" to read then why not give them something positive to read? Which in turn causes "more" reading among "all" family members age two to ninety-two?

How about a Lakota crossword puzzle, lakota stories written in lakota, lakota students participating in "their" culture in such things as pow wows, dancing, hand-games, as well as the 'usual" school activities like sports, spelling bees, one-act plays, etc.? If you give these kinds of stories and pictures to kids and families to read guess what happens?
They will reach for ‘more’ reading and therefore have the best opportunity to raise the bar in those NCLB reading scores.

Who pays for this Family Literacy project? It’s not the grants we apply for but are never ‘granted.’ So that leaves the schools, of course! They are mandated by federal and state law to provide reading literacy programs and resources. Schools are directed to provide materials that 'every' student finds enjoyable to read right now.

Reading opens doors for our students to achieve positive self-esteem and worthwhile job and lifetime opportunities.

We travel to every school that will listen to us, and we tell them how we can offer their families a reading resource that costs less each month than the cost of purchasing each student one book.

Lakota Country Times creates a partnership with schools by absorbing the production and editing costs. We only need reimbursement for paper, ink, and postage expense. This small cost is cheaper than an outdated, monthly school newsletter.

We mail our newspapers to ‘every’ student’s home every week! This allows ‘every’ student to experience the joy and pride of reading and ‘relating’ to community and school news in a lakota newspaper.

Call your local school administration or school board and see if they can provide this program to all students. Funding is available but you have to ask! Make them “make” it a priority for family literacy in Indian Country.

Everyone is entitled to read and learn to read, and that's our Family Literacy Project here in the trenches.

Connie Smith-Blanco, Oglala Lakota, is co-owner, business manager and marketing director of Lakota Country Times. She pursued a music career in Oklahoma, Tennessee and lived near her sister in Texas. After 30 years she moved back to her roots and her family, in South Dakota with two of her three daughters.

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