RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Grassroots organizers are planning to open the first Indigenous-led community school in Rapid City which will be focused on building educational equity for Native American students.

After two years of attempting to pass legislation that would establish and fund such schools in South Dakota, the NDN Collective organization is taking steps to open the school in the fall of 2022 with 40 kindergarten students.

NDN Collective, an Indigenous team of grassroots organizers, says the school will help close the “opportunity gap” between American Indian students and those of other races.

The curriculum will connect students with Indigenous culture, languages, ancestral knowledge, history and traditional ways of life. The school will be open to children of all races, organizers said.

“Our school will allow Indigenous youth to be unapologetically themselves, which is critical during years when we are figuring out who we are and where we fit into the world,” said Sarah Pierce, Director of Education Equity at NDN Collective. “Education is a way to begin to undo the systems of oppression and white supremacy that Indigenous people have been subjected to for generations. It’s a way for Indigenous people to reclaim our power.”

South Dakota’s Indigenous students have disproportionately lower rates of graduation and achievement and are more harshly disciplined in schools, according to organizers. For years these issues have largely gone unrecognized and unaddressed, said Amy Sazue, education equity organizer at NDN Collective.

“When students can access culturally relevant education, they become strong leaders, develop a solid sense of self, and feel connected to the world around them,” Sazue said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.