by Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz

SuccessfulEmpoweringNeeded.

These are the words that Kateri Montileaux uses to describe the Community Continuing Education/GED (General Educational Development) program she coordinates at Oglala Lakota College (OLC).

Successful—Most students who participate in the program complete the work and attain their GED credential.

Empowering—The GED program is not just about taking and passing the GED, but is also about students getting advice about college, the workforce, and facing their personal and academic challenges.

Needed—According to Montileaux, the program is critical for the students who participate.

Passing the GED exam is a route to high school credentials for students who have not completed the diploma through an accredited high school, having dropped out for personal or academic reasons.

GED programs are commonly thought of as test preparation courses to get students to successfully complete this set of exams, but the program at Oglala Lakota College is so much more than that — for teachers, tutors, and students.

In terms of logistics, the OLC program uses its funds to accommodate students’ needs and schedules as much as possible. The tutoring services are available in the evenings for those students who work during the day, and the program works with students to set their own individual pace and schedule.

Since January 2018, the Community Continuing Education/GED Program has paid students’ costs for all supplies, tutoring, and testing services, and fees for obtaining critical documents. Testing and tutoring costs include GED official practice tests, official tests, and test retake fees. Transportation services are supplied in the form of gas vouchers, Oglala Sioux Tribe transit passes. The TCU is so committed that even GED tutors to drive testers to the testing site located on the Piya Wiconi campus.

To take the GED test, students need a tribal ID, state ID, or a state driver’s license to be admitted into the testing room. Students should plan early, as sometimes they need to order and obtain replacement birth certificates in order to get the proper ID issued.

Students who participate in the Dollar General GED Program have dropped out of high school for a variety of reasons. Young mothers have left high school to give birth to and raise their babies and are now ready to finish the work toward a diploma. There are also students who were victims of bullying in high school, mercilessly teased because they were quiet or felt isolated from other students or groups; Montileaux says these students “really are bright and smart…but they weren’t comfortable in traditional schools…they like the one-on-one work we do here.”

Because of their circumstances, the students who come to the Dollar General GED Program are in need of more than just test preparation. The program meets their needs and provides extra support. “The tutors wear many hats. They listen to personal problems, family things, and venting. They listen, offer advice, and encourage. We partner with tribal and state programs and point the students towards services. The tutors are so much more than tutors.”

Recently OLC program staff visited Sinte Gleska University to see their continuing education program. They found the tutors at both institutions face similar challenges and embrace the multiple roles they play. The staff for these programs made plans to create an annual get-together and explored meeting at the Lakota Nation Invitational in Rapid City, South Dakota to learn from workshops on Native education and present the work they are doing.

Montileaux describes the students in the GED program at OLC as successful because so many students attain their GED diploma and “trusting,” because the tutors listen to students, provide support, and point students towards needed resources.

OLC creates possibilities for its Dollar General GED Program students to attain a GED and receive the high school diploma they did not get through traditional high school. Montileaux and her staff will do what it takes to create success.

“We make it work. We make things happen. We go out of our way for our students.” OLC is meeting these students’ needs in a way that a traditional high school did not, helping them to develop their skills and education so they can become successful members of the college community and the workforce.