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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Remember the Young Dreams Dance Troupe?

In the early 1990s there was a group of young Native American dancers and singers that captured the heart and soul of anyone who had the opportunity to watch them perform. At that time Red Lake Chairman Gerald Brun said, "Their performance represents beauty and power; a message of togetherness; and hope for the future."

The Young Dreams Dance Troupe was created in the summer of 1991 as an outgrowth of an idea by Red Lake community members. Adults and youth came together to find an innovative way to help youth stay away from drugs and at the same time learn about their culture.

The Red Lake Rehabilitation Program and Community Partnerships sponsored the program under the direction of Giles Hart. Individuals like Adrian Lussier, Margaret Morgan, Tom Barrett, Keith Defoe, Marilyn Mountain and Lee Lussier, Sr. and other community members contributed to making it a success.

In two years the Young Dreams Dance Troupe made some 40 presentations to most every school in the area and around the United States and Canada. The troupe was made up of Red Lake young people consisting of dancers, singers, and helpers who wanted to be part of something exciting. As you might imagine it was a tremendous amount of work for directors and chaperones to take 30 to 40 youth on the road nearly every week.

The beauty about this program was that it showed how the troupe became an educational alternative at a very high level. There was a curriculum, which was the Red Lake culture and how to avoid using drugs. There were learners. There were teachers (community members). There was organization. There was planning. There was accountability. Most of all there was excitement for not only the young people who participated but also for the viewers.

Through dance and singing accompanied by a narrator and the beat of a drum (The Eyabay Drum Group got its initial start during these early years), listeners were treated to an hour of dancing, singing and emotional stories about how dance and an understanding of culture can help youth avoid experimenting with drugs.

At about the same time the dance troupe was gaining in popularity a second program was founded, which also used the entire community. It was called Warrior Down, which was founded by Adam Lussier. The purpose was to provide help to young warriors who had fallen. Other warriors would gather to help these young people gain their confidence and help them realize that others cared about them. It was a good program with a powerful message and there may be some effort to resurrect the program today.

These two programs had several things in common. First they looked for unique ways to help young people solve difficult problems like drug and alcohol abuse. Second, they evoked the help of community members to be partners in the solution. Third, community members served as the teachers. Fourth, there was a curriculum. Fifth, it fit a need not presently addressed. When you put this together the result is an educational alternative.

Educational alternatives have been around in Minnesota since the 1960s when Dr. Don Glines made 69 comprehensive changes in the Wilson Campus School at Mankato State College to become the most innovative school in the United States. For the first time Mankato students (k-12) could choose to attend the traditional Mankato schools or attend Wilson. Five to six hundred students decided to choose Wilson because it was more in tune to the way they learned. Their graduation rate approached 100 percent.

Thanks to Wilson, educational alternatives have become more common in Minnesota with the development of alternative schools, learning centers, charter schools, learning academies and schools within a school. Bemidji has a variety of these programs in place and they work for kids. Because of these programs Bemidji and Minnesota are graduating more students.

What does this mean? For one thing, we know without any doubt that one school does not fit all learners. Places where there are high dropout rates as is the case in the inner city, poverty areas and on reservations a proven answer to increase the graduation rate is through educational alternatives. Programs like the Young Dreams Dance Troupe, Warrior Down, Charter Schools, Schools Within A School and hands on programs like Bemidji's Career Academies all are designed to find the right niche that fits kids better so they can succeed.

Even though there are a growing number of educational alternatives, which are outgrowths of what happened at Wilson 60 years ago, we need more if we are to further raise our graduation rate. Providing an array of educational alternatives for students is a huge answer to compliment the 100 percent Project Graduate goal in Beltrami County.

Community programs like Young Dreams and Warrior Down that used the community as a school have shown that they can help lots of kids. I have a sneaking suspicion that all of those students that were part of the Young Dreams Dance Troupe received their high school diploma. That tells us something about the power of not only looking at the community to help kids find success but also gives good evidence about the need to create even more educational alternatives.

Riddle: Why can a man jump higher than any building in the world? (Because no building can jump.) By offering more educational alternatives, we will see more kids shouting and jumping when they receive their high school diploma.

100 percent graduation

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Thank you KAXE for recently broadcasting a 15- minute show about 100 percent graduation.

1. We will have more students graduate when we offer more educational alternatives.

2. Kids who leave school early do so because we tried the "one size fits all" idea and it didn't work for them.

3. Programs like Warrior Down and Lumberjack High School are good examples of educational alternatives.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

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