Earlier this month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® officially launched its fall semester of Main University, one of the 25-year-old, not-for-profit youth organization’s most popular and enduring programs. Recipient of a “Champion for Children” award from the South Dakota Coalition for Children, Main University is designed for 4- to 12-year-olds who attend The Main youth center; it was founded by former long-term volunteer Tracie Farrell in 2002.
In this special program, participants may take short courses that mimic those offered in a college setting. The courses give Cheyenne River children a chance to study subjects that may not be offered in school. The program uses language from higher education, such as “university,” “credits” and “valedictorian,” to familiarize students with their options in and after high school.
“Main University is exciting for our younger children, because they get to choose which courses they take based on their interests, which is how higher education works,” said Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director. “We want our kids to learn the importance of taking responsibility for their attendance, their classroom work and their take-home projects. And we want them to see how learning can be interesting and fun.”
CRYP staff and long-term volunteers plan and teach the hourlong courses. The first course, “What Is Haiti,” is taught by Hannah Kahn, CRYP’s youth programs assistant. The Connecticut resident spent some time in the impoverished Caribbean nation, helping to clear rubble from the catastrophic earthquake, rebuild a school and teach English.
Her fellow youth programs assistant, Jerica Rivers, is teaching “Do-It-Yourself Projects,” which allows children to participate in fun arts-and-crafts projects that seem complicated on the surface but are actually quite simple. Rivers is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and lives in Eagle Butte.
Lizzy Carr of Florida and Virginia, CRYP’s youth programs intern, is again teaching “Zumba Fitness” in the Cokata Wiconi teen center’s dance studio. Carr first taught the course in the fall 2012 semester of Main University, when she was a long-term volunteer; in each class, she chooses a new song and teaches the children a dance to accompany the song. In the process, the kids learn favorites such as the cha-cha, the slide and salsa; they also learn appropriate stretching and warm-up techniques.
European volunteer Dan Woods is teaching “European Geography,” while Sudanese volunteer Doua Mahgoub and Colombian volunteer Vanessa Urbina will be teaching a joint guest lecture titled “Lakota Culture.”
“Doua and Vanessa are interested in Lakota culture and traditions, and they thought the guest lecture would be a great way to foster a meaningful cultural exchange with the children,” Eagle Hunter explained.
German volunteer Helena Weißweiler will teach a guest lecture titled “German Cuisine and Culture.” Finally, in November, CRYP will host two special presentations in music, featuring future volunteers Lothar Linzen from Germany and Luis Aldrete from Mexico.
Each Main University course is assigned its own weekday. Classes are held from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in The Main youth center’s library (with the exception of Zumba in the dance studio), Monday through Friday, and the children must attend 16 or more classes to graduate. This year’s graduation ceremony is tentatively scheduled for Monday, December 2.
“Although we started the courses on October 1, it’s not too late to get involved,” Eagle Hunter said. “Kids who join Main University now still have time to attend the 16 classes required for graduation.
“This is always an exciting time for all of us,” she continued. “We’re always thrilled to witness our kids’ performance and progress each semester at Main University, and the program really does teach them that they can take an active role in their education, from choosing classes based on their interests and aspirations to interacting with instructors, working with classmates and engaging with new subject matter. These will prove to be valuable skills as our kids move toward high school and, hopefully, post-secondary education.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.