By Kevin Thranow
A ribbon-cutting ceremony and ice cream social was held last Friday for students, parents, and staff in the cafeteria at Sapa Un Catholic Academy’s newly completed school facility at St. Francis Mission.
Sapa Un launched in 20xx and has since occupied rooms in a couple of buildings on the St. Francis Mission campus. As the school has expanded, more space was needed, and the decision was made to repurpose the former administration building into classrooms, a library, kitchen and cafeteria.
Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., president of St. Francis Mission, points out that most students arrive at the school behind in their grade level, but that within a few years of attending Sapa Un, they’ve not just caught up but exceeded the national test scores typical of their age.
As a private school, Sapa Un charges a nominal monthly tuition, but that ultimately creates another avenue for the Mission to fulfill its goals. Staff work with parents who have limited financial means to find creative ways to earn credits by volunteering to help with student activities, such as driving for field trips, coaching sports teams, and assisting in the classrooms. All of which increases the parents’ involvement in their children’s education – perhaps the most important element in a student’s academic success.
Kubicki, along with school director Fr. Jim Lafontaine, S.J., and the rest of the executive staff of SFM, have plans to expand the school each year until it is a full K-12 institution, with the first graduating class receiving diplomas as early as 2023.
The key, according to Kubicki, is how the educational model for the school integrates Lakota traditions in a way that the mission schools of the past did not. The core human values that transcend all cultures are present in the school’s curriculum, with the goal of training students to excel academically and also to develop a deep sense of commitment to their community. Ultimately, school officials hope that graduates will go on to success at universities and then bring that knowledge back to the reservation to build a stronger community.
As Fr. Lafontaine wound down his orientation for parents and students following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, it was apparent that most of the kids in attendance weren’t thinking about these admirable goals – they were thinking about ice cream.