Cherokee back to school backpack

Thousands of Native Children Looking Forward to a Successful New School Year

This month marks the start of a new school year for thousands of Native children across Indian Country who are facing the uncertainty of whether their school buildings will be open for classes, or whether they will struggle to attend virtually with either spotty, or even non-existent internet access at home.

But one thing is certain, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth® some 5,000 Native elementary school and junior children have received all the notebooks and notebook paper, binders, pencils and pens, crayons, rulers, erasers, scissors and more, and middle school students have many of those items in addition to highlighters, a protractor (remember those?) and even a calculator to do their schoolwork.

Former Running Strong Dreamstarter, JoRee LaFrance, a board member of the Bridge Foundation in Billings, Montana, which provides services and support to Apsáalooke and Northern Cheyenne students on the Crow Reservation and received 600 backpacks filled with school supplies for students told us: “There is a very high unemployment rate on the Crow Reservation which in turn adversely impacts the social and economic stability of my people and COVID-19 has amplified the disparities that my community faces.

“There are many needs in my community and am very grateful that Running Strong has provided some remedy for my people.”

But this is only the beginning.

With the Keshena Primary School opening this month, for the next 15 weeks thanks again to our supporters, each Friday afternoon 450 Menominee children will be heading home with a Smart Sack.

They’re called “Smart Sacks” for good reason – a child who does not have access to healthy food all weekend is not going to be focusing on their studies when they return to school on Monday mornings.

When it was reported to Running Strong for American Indian Youth® more than a decade ago by administrators and teachers in the Menominee Indian School District in Keshena, Wisconsin that students were arriving to school hungry and lethargic, we knew we had to take action.

“Our school district suffers from a high rate of poverty,” reported Menominee Indian School District Superintendent Wendell Waukau. “Our teachers have documented that this lack of food causes fatigue, absenteeism, and poor health, and is impacting the children’s ability to learn.”

From then on, thanks to our supporters we have been able to provide a Smart Sack – a backpack or grocery bag full of non-perishable food items for hundreds of Menominee elementary school students to take home on Friday afternoons ensuring that they, and their family members have plenty of food for the weekend.

In addition, throughout the academic year, Running Strong’s cohort of our 2020-2021 of nine Dreamstarter Teachers, each of whom are receiving grants of between $500 and $1,000 to improve their ability to educate their Native American students in the classroom will be doing just that.

They include:

*John Twichel (Sault Tribe) is a sixth and seventh grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher at the Sault Area Middle School in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, whose project is to teach his students how to code and program a micro-controller called an “Arduino” to make a variety of projects, including how to pilot the underwater robots they made with his previous Dreamstarter Teacher grant using an analog joystick.

*Olivia Penny-Nicholson (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) teaches life skills to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at Cherokee Middle School in Cherokee, North Carolina, in rural western North Carolina on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal reservation, whose project is to provide new culturally-appropriate books by Native writers so her disabled students can learn more about their culture, identity and history. She is also going to buy flexible seating for her students to create a better learning environment. She is also going to purchase craft and/or cultural items, such as beads to learn and practice beadwork on the school’s cultural sacred path days.

*Candis Yazzie (Navajo) is a K-5 Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) teacher at Dzil Libei Elementary and Tsinaabaas Habitiin Elementary schools in the Tuba City Unified School District on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, whose project is to first have her students understand the importance of frequent hand washing by using a glow lotion to simulate germs, then wash their hands to see how many “germs” remain. Then she will invite language/culture teachers, parents and community volunteers to teach how traditionally Yucca Root is used as a soap. The third component is that she will have the students construct a total of six portable hand washing stations that will be distributed to people in the community who do not have running water.

To learn more about our Dreamstarter Teachers and their projects, please visit

While at the start of this new school year, we know that in the months to come there will be many challenges that students, teachers and schools as a whole will be facing as the coronavirus pandemic hopefully winds down and there will be needs that we cannot predict at this time.

However, today, we are asking for your help so that we can be there as the needs arise as they most surely will with a gift of $25, $50 or $100 to support education for Native children on reservations including Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, Crow as well as urban centers with large Native populations such as Denver and Salt Lake City.

At Running Strong we believe strongly that education is not a key to success, it is THE key to a successful future and escape from a life of generational poverty.

Please give what you can today!

Help American Indian Youth by Donating Today!