RelatedYouth Enrichment students at American Indian Magnet School working on a sand painted art project.

By Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson, Youth Enrichment Coordinator

In our Department of Indian Work Youth Enrichment program, we will say “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which means, “We are all related.” Respecting one another as a relative is one of the core values we teach. This applies to both the students’ interactions with each other, and also how they see themselves in their community.

This program gives them the chance to come together and belong with other people who are like them. Our instructors are wonderful role models for our students. By their example, they show students a pathway to future success through academic achievement, while still holding on to their Native traditions, values, and strengths.

Although our students share this common indigenous heritage, they all come from many different tribes around the woodlands and prairie, even as far as Alaska. We encourage them to find out their tribal affiliation so that we can celebrate who they are and what makes their people special.

There are many close family connections in the Youth Enrichment program. Several sets of siblings and cousins have the opportunity to learn together. One example of this connection is Victoria Stein’s family. She is currently a teacher in the program, but started as a student herself, and now, her daughter is a student in the program. There are many reasons why her family participates in the Youth Enrichment program.

“I like how it gives my daughter a sense of pride. She can take pride in being Native American,” said Victoria. “Knowing the hard history of her people, but being able to smile and say, ‘we survived.’”

American Indian children in Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) have face some challenges, “but through this program she is able to connect with others her age that are having the same struggles,” added Victoria.

One struggle for American Indian students is attendance. Last year, 45% of American Indian SPPS students were absent 11 or more days, which was 10% higher rate than any other specific Ethnic group. This has been the trend for the last 5 years. In response, American Indian educators and programs have been striving to create learning environments that feel like home for our youth.

What makes a home? It is a place you can turn to when you’re upset. It is a place where the adults support one another and provide guidance to young people. We work to empower students to stick close to this home so we can help them achieve their dreams.

Victoria says, “Youth Enrichment is a safe zone, a comfort zone. The kids feel comfortable and know that they can come and talk to us. They know that we are there for them, and we’ll help them in any way that we can.”

The Youth Enrichment program takes place at the American Indian Magnet School in East Saint Paul. It is mutually beneficial for the students in our program and the school, because most of their teachers have been with the school and our program for many years, and truly know the students, their families, and how to empower them toward their self-determination.

To learn more about the Youth Enrichment program, please contact:

Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson
Youth Enrichment Coordinator