Oglala Lakota College GED Staff Highlight: Both Ends of the Spectrum of Service

Mar 15, 2022 | Blog, Indigenous Adult Education, Our Programs

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Thanks to Oglala Lakota College (OLC), people seeking high school equivalency services have found assistance for 50 years through the college’s Community Continuing Education/General Educational Development (GED) program. For half of a century, tutors have dedicated their hearts and time, helping students pick up their educations where they left off. For some tutors, supporting GED students has been their life’s work. For others, it is a newfound calling.

We invite you to get to know Phyllis Swift Hawk and Matthew Janis, who are at both ends of the tutoring spectrum. Swift Hawk is currently the longest-serving tutor at OLC, and Janis is the newest tutor at the college. Both tutors share their stories and the inspiration behind their work in their own words.

Phyllis Swift Hawk

Phyllis Swift HawkI am a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and currently work at OLC as a GED Tutor at the Eagle Nest College Center in Wanblee, South Dakota.

It has been a great opportunity to work in the GED Program for approximately forty-four wonderful years. I do not just have students for one year. I love following them through their life journey and seeing what they’ve become and what wonderful lives they have created for themselves.

During the years, I have encountered challenges of how students can be successful. I always approach them in a positive manner to be encouraging. What has helped my students is utilizing organizational techniques. It is a skill many of our students need to develop to be successful. It takes patience to explain and show the students how to set up a system to keep track of their class requirements and personal obligations. Most students don’t recognize their ability to retain what they learn when there is a pattern and structure to their study habits. When they form routines with guidance and support, it enables them to move toward accomplishing their goals.

Students are struggling during the pandemic without classroom instruction. Few students have access to internet services, and we are trying our best to serve them with online studying. They are now familiar with how to sign in to online lessons and know how to use the technology.

Most of my students receive study packets and I monitor their assignments closely. I also keep track of their educational gains for the test of adult basic education (TABE) pre- and post-testing for reading, math and language. This has taught me we can meet our students’ learning goals with continued online learning.

The GED Program has been receiving unique support through the College Fund’s Native Students Stepping Forward: Dollar General High School Equivalency Completion Program. Native students get assistance with testing fees, transportation, and incentive support. This assistance has motivated our students to fulfill their educational goals.

Matthew L. Janis

Matthew L. JanisI am the newest GED tutor at OLC. I am an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. I grew up around the central region of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the small town of Kyle, South Dakota, but I like to call it the center of the universe. My father is Robin Janis, and my mother is Sandra Brown Bull Janis, both of Kyle. My little tribe at home consists of my wife, Larissa Red Eagle, and our two children, Parker and Madilyn. My wife and children are enrolled members of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, so the kids are our little “Fort Peck Ogres” (ogre is short for Oglala). Fort Peck is also where I went to school, earning my Associate of Science degree from Fort Peck Community College (FPCC) in environmental science.

After school, I returned to Kyle and enrolled at OLC, where I received my Bachelor of Science degree in natural science with an emphasis in conservation biology. I was then accepted into the master’s program at Black Hills State University in sustainability. It has opened my mind to systems of thinking and balance.

The Lakota utilize many aspects of science and incorporate them into our culture and everyday life. I like to relate our culture to other cultures and systems because we, as Lakota people, share many universal concepts and natural laws.

Before working for the college, I worked in the interpretations division for the National Parks Service. Interpreters act as bridges to form connections by taking tangible, intangible, and universal themes and making them relatable to the individual. Hence, they form attachments to the topic that will stick with them to “think the thinks and feel the feels.”

I got my foot in the door at OLC as a security guard/van driver for the Pejuta Haka College Center, and this fall will have been part of the team for two years. After a recommendation for the GED program, I was then hired as the tutor for the Pejuta Haka College Center this past January. It was a sudden change and a bit overwhelming by jumping right into the ring, but what is helping me roll with the punches is using my past experiences and applying them. I am excited to be working for this program and providing a service to my local community as an educator and as a graduate student. The goal is to learn with the students to better equip them with the proper tools to succeed and move on to the next level in life.

Education was highly encouraged on both sides of my family. My paternal grandmother was a first-generation college student, and my dad is the second from OLC’s carpentry program. My mom completed the GED program, worked for the Little Wound School (LWS) for twenty-plus years, and is my biggest motivator. She always pushed me to get my high school diploma, but surpassing expectations (mainly my own) and getting this far in my education is thanks to my family and my parents, for constantly pushing me, and to my wife and kids, for always supporting me in my crazy ideas.

I want to pay it forward by serving the community, and if I can influence at least one student who will impact the community, I did my job.

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