On Tuesday, Feb. 26, six students celebrated their graduation from the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s award-winning Main University. The program’s winter session took place from Jan. 15 to Feb. 19, and it was open free to 4- to 12-year-olds who spend time at CRYP’s “The Main” youth center.

Recipient of a “Champion for Children” award from the South Dakota Coalition for Children, Main University was founded by a long-term volunteer in 2002. During this most recent session, instructors Kirsten Stone and Natalia Peraire Pont guided students through diverse subject matter that included science, math, geography and Lakota culture.

Then, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, the six children who completed the full winter program enjoyed a formal graduation celebration, complete with official caps and diplomas. According to Youth Programs Director Jerica Widow, Main University was another resounding success with its young participants. 

“When we offer Main University, the kids remind us every week that they truly love to learn,” Widow says. “They’re excited to have new opportunities, and have access to material that might not be offered in school.”

Widow notes that the young children who regularly participate in activities at The Main are familiar with Main University due to its longevity at the CRYP campus, and they eagerly look forward to new installments. They’re excited to learn about new subjects that interest them and earn the right to graduate with their peers, with proud family members and friends watching.

“Main University does more than give our kids opportunities to learn new subjects,” Widow says. “It also helps them understand the importance of taking responsibility for their attendance, classroom work and take-home projects. And, it opens a door for them to explore their passions, which is a thrill for us—we get to witness the spark, when learning becomes both interesting and fun.”

And, Widow observes, when children learn how to take an active role in their own education, they are gaining valuable life skills that will serve them well as they head to middle school, high school and whatever they choose for their post-secondary education.

“At the heart of every program here at CRYP is our desire to give our children access to new opportunities,” she says. “Main University is a great example of that, because what they learn through that program creates a ripple effect. When you open a child’s eyes, mind and heart to so many possibilities, you’re allowing them to envision a future in which they thrive. At CRYP, we want them to see what’s possible.” 

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@waniyetuwowapi).

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.