Lettuce, Laundromats, Libraries

Can the little things matter? Can the simple greetings that we have with people each day reshape the culture of support, forgiveness and care? Can the simple breaking of bread together lead to the connections, solutions, and journeys forward that we need? Can taking time to breath and notice and smile produce results? Can the big things ever matter enough? Can systemic change that includes personnel changes, learning design changes, and instructional changes ever take hold without a healthy culture for it to reside? Can sweeping technology changes make the differences needed to transform our schools into being agile, open, and transparent? Can excellent leadership without the right followers reshape education as we know it? 


Today was filled with questions. Questions that overwhelm emotion and numb the heart. Questions that stir the brain and make for restless sleep. The blanket that covers much of life on the reservation can provide security, emotional warmth, and a sense of place, but unbalanced, it can smoother, restrict, and put out the fire that burns naturally inside the hearts of this beautiful tribe. 


Today was filled with conversation. We had the opportunity to visit Little Wound High School where we had the chance to see a campus in a state of survival. They were surviving the pressures of testing. They were surviving the pressures of a staff divided between tribal teachers and Teach for America staff. They were surviving without art or music. They were surviving after losing students and family members to sudden deaths. The campus also struggled without solid infrastructure for technology. More specifically, the use of technology was sparse and without a chance for impact. The campus is also struggling with legacy systems for behavior control, master scheduling, and printed resources. We then had conversation over lunch at a Mexican restaurant in the heart of the reservation. It was a success story. A small business surviving in a place where jobs are scarce and money for food is limited. In this same area was a bank, a video story, a movie theater, and another store. These were a part of our hopeful conversation at lunch. 


Conversation about common challenges filled our drive to Rapid City. Lead learners from South Dakota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland discussed the food security of our families, building relationship with the mothers of our students, social justice questions in our neighborhoods, and struggles to scale change. Our conversations then led us to a close examination of the monuments at Crazy House and Mount Rushmore. We stopped to consider how each of these pieces of stone have such nuanced history that we all should spend more time examining. The sun set with a conversation with a wise elder and author who told us stories of his desire for fullness in his people. He was a beautiful man with a spirit that shined, and all of us felt blessed to be in his presence. 


Today was filled with ideas. Most of them were trapped in my head. Others were expressed as fragments as we talked throughout the day. None of them seem like the answer. None of them will “fix” the Pine Ridge Reservation. None of them are possible without champions from the inside. None of them are impossible though, and none of them disrespect the beauty of the culture permeates the reservation. 


This brings me to lettuce, laundromats, and library. 


As I looked around today, I longed for fresh food and vegetables. Even though the growing season is short here, the tribe is desperate for fresh vegetables. It seems like the schools, community centers, and housing clusters could really use additional gardens to grow lettuce and other vegetables that would grow in this soil. For many here, it is an hour by car to fresh food, and this reality exacerbates the health concerns on the reservation. Building the structures for growing lettuce seem like a step that could be a part of a healthy walk forward for the community. 


Nowhere on the reservation can the joy that comes from a public library be found. A public library space in each district could lead to greater adult learning, a space for debate and solution making, a new energy around reading, and a technology hub for asynchronous learning. Viewing the high school library was difficult. There was no librarian, and the age of the books led me to believe that they are never touched. A library can be a hub for community learning, and with the many resources that exist in each district on the reservation (Head Starts, community colleges, health services), it wouldn’t be that difficult to make this a reality. 


Functioning washers and dryers aren’t available in many of the homes and places of living on the reservation. This causes many to hand wash and dry clothes. Though this has been a practice of many for a long time, a few laundromats on the reservation could shift the time consumed doing this chore into time that could be used in a more productive way for children, family, and community. Clean clothes change the way that children feel. Clean clothes allow for healthier children and families. Clean clothes are a piece of dignity that can provide armor against the pressures of the outside world. 


It seems silly to think that lettuce, laundromats, and libraries are my takeaways from today, but I’m beginning to see that it may be the small shifts that take root over time that will make the largest differences here at Pine Ridge. Thinking big is often thinking small here at Pine Ridge. It is also thinking in way that includes a deep dose of listening and empathizing with the champions for change that we are finding throughout the reservation