Native Sun News Today: Lakota students clean up their community

Freshmen members of Oelrich High School's Jobs for America Graduates class took part in an Earth Day clean-up on Friday, April 21, 2017. (Except for the dog.) Photo by James Giago Davies

Oelrichs High School honors Earth Day
Students in JAG class clean up school grounds and city streets
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

OELRICHS –– Originally Lynn Miller wanted to organize his kids to work with nearby high schools in Pine Ridge for an Earth Day clean up detail. When those plans fell through, Miller had his Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) students organized into three clean up details that worked the playground, school grounds and city streets of Oelrichs.

They filled up the back of a truck with a pile of fat orange bags but it was not the clean up Miller was expecting.

“We had to look hard to find trash,” Miller said. “I was picking up lots of things like cigarette butts and candy wrappers. The people of this town must keep it fairly clean.”

Oelrichs is a unique town, in that like many other schools that border a reservation, or are smack dab in the middle of a white township, the town had an all-white school. But like many small rural South Dakota communities, the historic Oelrichs began a slow death, and so the school board was tickled to death by the gradual influx of Oglala students from Pine Ridge communities. Open enrollment allows them to bus over, or have family drive them over, and the student body is now 142 strong and 90% Lakota.

The school gets more Oglala requests for student enrollment than they can accept and many of the students express. Earlier this year at a New Underwood basketball game Oglala players expressed their feelings about being at Oelrichs: “It’s a lot better here, a lot safer, it’s nice and I’m happy.”

It is strange at first for those who remember Oelrichs high School from forty years ago to see the school look so different, but any time spent walking around the campus, reveals a pleasant school environment, the students and staff well familiar with each other.

“That’s one good thing I really like about this school,” Miller said, while instructing a student in his welding class. “The size of the classrooms allow us to work closely with individual students.”

The JAG program is used by the 25-member freshman class. Miller said there are about a dozen JAG programs in the state, teaching students the nuts and bolts of how the job market works.

One of the students in the JAG program, Narcisse Neck, Jr. said he had learned about the career he hopes to get into: “I never really knew a male nurse’s salary, so that was a good thing.”

The Earth Day clean up went well despite threatening weather, and despite the fact many of the students were off playing golf and competing in track.

The theme of the clean up was “Caring for the Environment Begins at Home,” and clearly, many of the Oglala students see Oelrichs High School as their home.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Oelrichs High School honors Earth Day

(Contact James Giago Davies at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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