RED LAKE -- Despite diminished funding due to canceled fundraising events, officials at St. Mary’s Mission school in Red Lake Nation said new things are in store for the school, according to a letter sent to the community on Nov. 23.

The school is moving ahead with establishing an eighth-grade level as well as a preschool class for 3- and 4-year-olds, due to parent demand.

Next year, St. Mary’s will also begin a new afterschool STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) program for the middle school. The school also recently hired a full-time school psychologist.

St. Mary’s Mission students are currently under a distance learning model, and have been since Nov. 5.

Fr. Jerry Rogers, who is the pastor of St. Mary’s Mission, as well as St. Philip’s Parish in Bemidji and Sacred Heart Church in Wilton, said donations the school has received despite the lack of formal fundraising events have gone toward student technology needs.

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“Technology is often a differentiator between those who can and cannot succeed in the world today. We decided to use a portion of the vital donations received to provide our students with iPads to continue their learning while at home during the weeks we have conducted hybrid school days,” he said.

Rogers said the success of the school is due in part to its commitment to Ojibwe culture. Every day, students learn their Ojibwe culture from elders in the school as well as faculty, the letter said. In addition to displays of Ojibwe artwork and common Ojibwe phrases used throughout the school day, students open the school year with a traditional smudging with sage, learn Ojibwe songs for the annual Christmas play and plan a festive spring pow wow.

“We want every student, their families, and everyone in our community to celebrate what’s right with our students and the people of Red Lake—to believe in themselves and have the courage to soar,” said Fr. Rogers. “Our school provides a safe haven for students where they can have fun while they learn. Test scores verify the significant academic progress our students are achieving.”

Recent tracking reports have shown that St. Mary’s graduates continue to perform above average academically at Red Lake High School and other surrounding schools, officials mentioned in the letter. The majority of St. Mary’s students score at or above their reading and math grade levels.

During this season of giving and in honor of National Native American Heritage Month, the St. Mary’s community hopes to see donor support continue. “No child is turned away from St. Mary’s Mission because of their inability to pay tuition,” the letter said. “Despite a tight operating budget, tuition payments do not cover our costs.”

This year, the annual cost of educating one child is $5,778. “All donations are welcome. We depend on the generous donations of individuals, businesses, churches, and foundations off the reservation to help our school thrive and our students pursue their dreams,” said Fr. Rogers.

Donations may be made securely on the St. Mary’s Mission GiveMN page: www.givemn.org/organization/St-Mary-S-Mission-School or by mailing donations to: St. Mary’s Mission School, P.O. Box 189, Red Lake, MN 56671