The Vermillion Rotary Club held its weekly luncheon meeting on Tuesday, March 25, at the Neuharth Center on the USD campus. The meeting was opened by President David Hussey. The invocation was given by Rotarian Bob Grossmann. A round of singing, announcements, and introduction of guests followed this.
Rotarian Rennae O'Connor introduced Mary Isaacson as our guest speaker for the day. Mary Isaacson is a registered nurse and a doctoral nursing student at Indiana University. Her doctoral work is focused on the Lakota American Indian adolescent and the increased incidence of high-risk behaviors.
Her research is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She is also an assistant professor of nursing at Augustana College in Sioux Falls.
The working title of her presentation was "School Supplies in Indian Country: Reducing Educational Barriers." She began by stating her objectives: Describe what Red Shirt Table is, talk about the unique needs of the school, discuss the impact of poverty, and to say thanks to Vermillion Rotary for their support.
Red Shirt Table is a school on the Pine Ridge Reservation very near the Badlands. It is 30 miles east of Hermosa and 60 miles south of Rapid City. There are no paved roads in the area. Red Shirt Table is a community and not incorporated. It is often referred to as a forgotten community. The school is very new. It is a "day school" as opposed to the more traditional boarding school.
There are 60 pupils in grades K through eighth grade. It is referred to as a contract school. That is, it receives money from the BIA but is not run by the BIA.
It receives money for salaries but not for school supplies. Last fall the Vermillion Rotary Club helped supply backpacks with school supplies for most of the students whose parents could not have afforded to do. The students were very excited to have something they could call their own.
The county – Shannon County – is the second poorest in the nation. Fifty two percent of the people live below the poverty line. Such poverty leads to disharmony, poor literacy rates, poor nutrition, and higher levels of stress. Poverty and poor school performance can lead to alcoholism, drug problems, and a higher dropout rate. Their drop out rate was 22 percent but has fallen to 18 percent. By contrast, Vermillion has a 1.4 percent drop out rate.
Ms. Isaacson has been doing research there for several years and has taken nursing student interns to the Pine Ridge Hospital as a part of their learning experience. Many students report this to be a life-changing experience. She has also enabled some clinics to evaluate the health of the students at Red Shirt Table School, and provide some dental care because this is not available locally.
There is an almost total lack of employment opportunities. When students graduate from eighth grade, they have to decide whether to leave the community for additional education or training because nothing else exists on that part of the reservation.