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Secretary's Column
By Tom Oster
Department of Education


Reaching across cultural barriers

As we move into the fall of the year, I am looking forward to the annual Indian Education Summit. The summit takes place this year Sept. 26-28 in Chamberlain. Itís a time for us as educators and leaders to focus on solutions for helping our American Indian students thrive, which needs to happen more often.

The Indian Ed Summit is not just for educators from reservation schools and border towns. Itís for all of us. Before coming to my position as secretary of education, I didnít fully understand the challenges facing many of our Native students. I still donít. But what I have come to discover is that there are dedicated educators who are going to great lengths to make sure these students have the opportunity to achieve at their highest potential. The Indian Ed Summit is a place to hear some of those success stories and figure out how you might model them in your own district.

Gov. Rounds proclaimed 2010 a Year of Unity in South Dakota. I know that certain groups and communities have accepted his challenge and are planning activities around that theme.

At the Department of Education, we will be running a Year of Unity Writing Contest for 4th and 11th graders this fall. The writing contest will have a special focus on relationships between Native and non-Native people. Your elementary teachers and secondary English teachers will be receiving information about the contest soon. Our hope is that by getting students researching, reading, talking and writing about a range of cultural perspectives, we can promote positive relations between the races early on.

While improving race relations may seem a daunting task, we have opportunities each day, as individuals, to treat people with respect and kindness. Thatís how barriers are broken down Ö person to person, one day at a time.

Click here to learn more about the Year of Unity Writing Contest.