US. Department of Education Awards More Than $325,000 to Help School District on Pine Ridge Reservation Recover From Multiple Student Suicides

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US. Department of Education Awards More Than $325,000 to Help School District on Pine Ridge Reservation Recover From Multiple Student Suicides

November 19, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students awarded Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota a Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant totaling more than $325,000. The grant will be used to assist the Little Wound School with ongoing recovery efforts following 12 suicide deaths on the Pine Ridge reservation, including the deaths of current and former Little Wound School students, and relatives and friends of the students. In addition, there have been more than 100 suicide attempts on the reservation during the 2014-15 school year. This is the third Project SERV grant awarded to a school district on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The first grant was awarded in June 2010, and in June 2015, the Department awarded a grant to Pine Ridge School following a significant increase in student suicides. 

“These incidents are troubling, and my heart goes out to the students, families and community of Pine Ridge,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “There are so many people involved in the work to help children, families and the community heal after these tragedies, and this grant will help this community receive the services it needs to move forward in restoring the learning environment.”

Little Wound School is a Bureau of Indian Education funded, tribally-controlled school, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and serves approximately 800 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. It is in the center of the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is the second largest Indian reservation in the United States. When the tragedies occurred, they impacted the entire Pine Ridge Reservation as many students most likely knew the victims or were closely bound by kinship.

Little Wound has acknowledged that additional support is needed to meet the needs of all students requiring care. To help address these needs, Little Wound School requested a Project SERV Extended Services grant to help restore the learning environment through the provision of additional support and case management services for students. Specifically, the school will use the grant to adopt programs designed to restore the learning environment and establish a comprehensive suicide-awareness and responsiveness program. The program will focus on addressing youth suicide with a culturally appropriate and comprehensive approach. Funds also will be used to hire a counselor/social worker who will track the number of students requiring hospitalization and subsequent transitioning back into the school system after suicide attempts, and two full-time teachers. 

There are two types of Project SERV awards—Immediate Services and Extended Services. Immediate Services grants provide emergency, short-term assistance to affected school districts or colleges and universities. Extended Services grants assist school districts and colleges and universities in carrying out the long-term recovery efforts that may be needed following a significant, traumatic event. To date, the Office of Safe and Healthy Students has awarded more than $42.1 million to 128 grantees, including Little Wound School, since the grants program began in 2001.

The Obama Administration is committed to finding solutions to the pressing problems that confront Native youth, with an emphasis on education, economic development, and health.

The White House Initiative for Native American and Alaska Native Education and the Bureau of Indian Education, brought together approximately 120 educators with local, state, and federal leaders last month to attend Oglala Lakota Living, Language and Learning: a Gathering of Pine Ridge Educators. The first of four in a series, the gatherings will work to support a framework  for further collaboration to address how schools can work together to support Pine Ridge students by developing school based capacity for a crisis intervention and suicide prevention and successful language and culture instruction.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of 13 competitively selected Promise Zones, where the federal government is partnering with and investing in communities to accomplish the goals of creating jobs, leveraging private investment, increasing economic activity, expanding educational opportunities, and reducing violent crime. Each designated Promise Zone must identify a set of outcomes it will pursue to revitalize its community, develop a strategy supporting those outcomes, and realign resources accordingly. They receive priority access to certain federal funding opportunities, a dedicated federal liaison to help navigate federal programs, and the opportunity to engage five AmeriCorps VISTA members to support their efforts, and Promise Zone tax credits, if enacted by Congress.

The U.S. Departments of Education and the Interior recently announced that eight federally recognized tribes will collectively receive nearly $2.5 million in grant awards to strengthen tribal education programs. The grants are funded through the Department of Education’s State-Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) program, and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education’s Tribal Education Department (TED) program.

Earlier this year, the Department awarded more than $5.3 million in grants to help Native American youth become college- and career-ready. Under the new Native Youth Community Projects program, the Department made grants to a dozen recipients in nine states that will impact more than 30 tribes and involve more than 48 schools. These awards are a key element of President Obama’s Generation Indigenous “Gen I” Initiative to help Native American youth.

To view a list of Project SERV grantees and award amounts, or to learn more about the program, visit