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Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge school puts priority on health

Students at the Wounded Knee District School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Physical Education underway at WKDS
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

MANDERSON -- One school on the reservation is continuing its efforts to improve the learning environment of its students.

For the first time in years there is now a full time Physical Education teacher at Wounded Knee District School. The position is part of duties of a newly hired Student Activities Coordinator that will look to help promote a healthy school for students.

"I think it has been four or five year's since there has been a P.E. teacher here at the school," said one WKDS administrator.

In past year's the school did have a regular P.E. class as teachers assigned to other subjects were forced to use important time during non-class hours to not only instruct classes --but also develop the curriculum for students to follow. This year WKDS has acquired funding to fix this shortfall through a 21st Century grant intended to help the school heal from past traumas and to build up the strengths of the student body.

It is important that our students are given the opportunity to express and improve themselves in as many ways as possible," said Alice Phelps, WKDS Principal. "Part of the school experience should include curriculum that allows for our students to improve their physical health. We are excited that we are now able to provide this to our students."

Mackenzie Casey is the new physical education teacher at Wounded Knee District School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Now that WKDS has filled this important position it is estimated that other instructors in the school will get back 2-hours of work time that they can then devote to improving their students performance in other subject areas.

For a school like WKDS a full-time Physical Education teacher gives students an opportunity to build self-wealth and to benefit from the many health benefits that are associated with exercise. Children who are provided with adequate physical education classes have been shown to have lower incidents of depression, but more importantly have also been found to be more attentive in other classes.

Starting a Physical Education department from scratch is tough task but WKDS has found the right person for the job. Mackenzie Casey, a recent graduate of South Dakota State University is a local man who has decided to use his education to give back to one of the communities he grew up in.

"It's good," said Mackenzie when asked about his first week as a teacher. "I like to work with the kids here and I get to use what I learned in college," he added.

Mackenzie majored in Physical Education at SDSU and as a result has the ability to develop a new and permanent curriculum for WKDS. The funding that has made this position available also allows for Mackenzie to incorporate many aspects of the Lakota culture into his classes.

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"We have worked very hard to find the right people to work with our children," said one WKDS School Board President Julie White Butterfly. "That effort has paid itself off as we have found one of our own to work with our youth."

Unlike other P.E. courses across the country the one set to be taught at WKDS will implement facets of the Lakota culture into the classroom setting. Funding for this important position is provided by a Bureau of Indian Education 21st Century grant that allows for the school to cater material to the needs of its primarily Lakota student body.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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