Principals Should Encourage Students

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Congratulations to the seniors who graduated from area high schools over the weekend. The Class of 2015 received their high school diplomas in ceremonies held at St. Francis, Todd County and White River High Schools. You’ve made it through one of the most difficult times in your life. We are proud of all of you.

Attending elementary, middle and high school today is no easy task. Academics are difficult to get through. Students have trouble mastering algebra formulas. Other students have difficulty reading. And most students are constantly intimidated by a bully. There are young people who have taken their lives because of a bully.

Intimidation or discouragement isn’t always perpetuated by other students. Many times the school staff, faculty, administrators or school board members will also bully students. They might use subtle tactics when terrorizing a student. A young person might find it hard to identify when an adult is being a bully.

I’ve been told of three instances involving students where principals exhibited what I believe was inappropriate behavior. I would categorize their actions as bullying. A teacher sent me a message recently telling me about an incident at an elementary school involving a student and the principal. The student wanted to sing at the drum during a school wacipi. He started making his way to the drum. The principal told him he couldn’t go to the drum. The principal made the student go back to his seat.

What do you think this experience did to the self-esteem of the student? It always makes me feel happy when I see young people, especially children, take an interest in our Lakota culture. It’s great to see children singing at the big drum, it shows me our songs will be carried on by the younger generation. But now I wonder if that little boy will ever try to make his way to the drum again. The behavior of the principal might have quashed his desire to sing. I would bet money the experience was severely traumatizing to the student.

Another incident I became aware of was posted on social media. A parent was upset because a high school principal called a middle school student ignorant. What kind of administrator calls a student ignorant? We have a hard enough time motivating our children to go to school every day. They have all kinds of issues at school. But when a principal chimes in with the rest of the bullying population by calling their students names, well I think it’s time to find a new principal.

This week I received an email informing about the behavior of still another high school principal. Apparently, a high school student is struggling to get passing grades. Those of you who have students attending high school know how hard it is for our young people during the last few weeks of school. Our students are using all of their energy for that last push to pass their classes.

When the student approached the principal to discuss how hard they were working to bring up their grade, the administrator was discouraging. Instead of praising the student on the effort put into the work to bring the grade up, the principal suggested the student drop out and start over next year. The principal allegedly has favorites in the school. Administrators shouldn’t display favoritism. Our young people see more than we think they do.

The principals we have working in our schools on the Rez could be doing more to encourage the students they are supposed to be guiding. The principals are supposed to encourage the students to stay in school. They could be telling their student body how important education is. But according to some parents and students, the administrators are behaving inappropriately. Our children are suffering because of this behavior.

The family members of the principals I referred to can make all kinds of excuses justifying the administrator’s behavior. But we have to begin calling out the behavior for what it really is—these principals are bullying students. This is happening on both the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.

I want our young people to keep moving forward. I want them to stay in school and graduate even when the school staff, teachers, principals and school board members are bullying them. Our Lakota students are the future. If the current administrators can’t recognize their own bad behavior for what it really is, it might be time to replace them with principals who have the students’ best interests at heart.

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