Student sees results a year after trip to Native American school

By University Communications
August 5, 2016
UW-Stout student Olivia Coroneos works with children at Enemy Swim Day School.

Photo: UW-Stout student Olivia Coroneos works with
children at Enemy Swim Day School.

 In 2015 Kayla Thorson was part of a Native American service learning trip to South Dakota with a group of fellow University of Wisconsin-Stout students.

The goal: help educate and inspire at-risk children about the value of graduating from high school and going to college while also teaching and mentoring them about social issues such as alcohol, drugs, poverty and teenage pregnancy.

This spring Thorson returned for the second annual program at Enemy Swim Day School in Waubay, S.D. She was excited to renew friendships with many middle-schoolers, the main target group. Seeing the children she met last year was possible only because, to her delight, they still were in school — they hadn’t dropped out.

“Some of the seventh-graders last year didn’t want to go college, high school or even come back for eighth grade. A lot of them were there again this year and wanted to talk more about high school and college,” Thorson said.

“Last year I wasn’t sure if we made an impact. Now we saw that we did, and it was amazing,” Thorson said.

UW-Stout students have some fun on the trip.Thorson and 14 other UW-Stout students took part in the Today and Beyond Project at the school for 11 days in May after UW-Stout’s spring semester ended. Enemy Swim is a rural Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribal school, kindergarten through eighth grade, on the Lake Traverse Reservation. The reservation is in northeastern South Dakota and extends slightly into North Dakota and Minnesota.

Thorson’s observation aligns with documented results of the program over several years, dating to before UW-Stout became involved in 2015.

Thorson, who earned a degree in May in human development and family studies with a certificate in social work, was a group leader this year. “I definitely learned how to become more of a leader,” said Thorson, of Appleton, who hopes to work with at-risk youth as she begins her career.

Along with educating the Enemy Swim students about personal goals and social issues, the UW-Stout students tried to open their eyes with regards to careers. They talked about careers in classes and went on a field trip, visiting a bank, factory and hospital. Workers at those sites told children that they need to stay in school to get similar jobs, which they could have someday on the reservation.

Kayla Thorson, right, at the pow wowUW-Stout students also ate meals with Enemy Swim students, rode the school bus with them and attended Native American ceremonies, including the end-of-the-year powwowand toured the expansive reservation. “They get to see us as role models. A lot of them don’t have role models like us,” Thorson said.

‘I learned so much’

A UW-Stout student who was on the trip for the first time, Bryce Befort, said the experience was much more meaningful than he expected.

“I honestly thought that I was not going to learn that much on this trip and that I was going to be the one educating students. I was very wrong. I learned so much,” said Befort.

Befort, who will be a junior this fall at UW-Stout, returned with new perspectives on Native American culture, course curriculum and how to work with children in middle school, which he hopes to do when he graduates with a degree in science education.

Befort enjoyed being “part of something bigger than myself and learning about a different culture along the way. I love helping people, and this project was all about helping people,” said Befort, who is from South St. Paul, Minn., and went to Clayton High School in Wisconsin.

“I had no idea that a service-learning project could be such an amazing time. It was so awesome to build meaningful relationships with some of the students,” Befort said.

Bryce BefortBefort and Thorson said that taking part in a pow wow was one of the most powerful and memorable experiences of their trip. At the end everyone joined hands and danced together as a tribal elder explained how they were family, related or not, because they care for each other.

“This was a very impactful and meaningful moment for me,” Befort said.

He also was touched by children wanting their attention. “The children always liked having us around, especially during breakfast and lunch. For most meals, I was asked at least three times by three different kids before I had even gotten my food if I could sit by them.”

The trip was led by Crystal Aschenbrener, an assistant professor of social work in the social science department. Prior to the trip, students studied Native American culture and planned the trip’s education activities. Afterward, they each wrote a final comprehensive paper.

UW-Stout students collected small gifts from the campus community and gave them to children as prizes. “Giving Stout T-shirts and other items further celebrates education and is something youth can use to reflect on the project after the college students have left their school,” Aschenbrener said.

Basketball camp with an Education Focus

As an addition to the Today and Beyond Project, UW-Stout students also coordinated a basketball camp for children again this year.

Autumn Paulson, of Lodi, a senior majoring in vocational rehabilitation with concentrations in counseling and social work, organized the camp and with help from her father, Chris, and brother, Derek. They received donations from Under Armour, AmeriPride, Linens & Uniforms Services, the Madison Police Department and Navitus Health Solutions.



Second: UW-Stout students have fun while on the trip.

Third: Kayla Thorson, right, prepares for a pow wow at the end of the trip.

Bottom: Bryce Befort