- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) - U.S. Education Secretary John King on Thursday listened to Native American students, teachers and elders share the challenges youth face on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and heard stories of how Lakota language educational programs can offer those children hope.

King visited Red Cloud Indian School and Wolf Creek Elementary School and took part in the opening ceremonies for a gathering of educators and federal officials to discuss improving academic and life prospects for youth.

King said substance abuse and a lack of economic opportunity can contribute to a sense of hopelessness, but programs on the reservation are helping to combat that feeling.

“Infusing Lakota language and culture in the educational program can help to give kids a sense of identity and a sense of hope about their community,” King told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe last year declared a state of emergency because of a series of youth suicides and attempted suicides.

King said Education Department grant programs such as the Native Youth Community Project could assist with the Lakota language infusion effort, and he urged communities to apply for the grants.

Elders are also concerned about dropout rates and the need to attracting and retain strong teachers.

King said he was inspired to hear students talk about their desire to attend college to they can return to the reservation and improve conditions for future generations.

At Wolf Creek, one the biggest issues is space.

“They have 700 students there in a space built for 300, so that’s a challenge,” he said.

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