Pine Grove Satellite Project Approved


By Brett Larson, June 5, 2015

Next fall, Pine Grove Leadership Academy in District III will open as an extension of Nay Ah Shing Schools, thanks to the hard work of several Mille Lacs Band members, including Education Executive Director Joycelyn Shingobe.

“This gives kids who might not fit in well at public school the opportunity to attend a school that’s close to home, rich in culture and language, and offers a comfortable learning environment,” Joycelyn said.

The announcement came May 21 during a visit to Nay Ah Shing Abinoojiyag by Dr. Monty Roessel, Director of the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).

Joycelyn was thrilled to hear the news that the Band’s proposal had been approved. “I was so happy, my mouth fell open,” Joycelyn said. “I wanted to ask him to repeat it — ‘What did you just say?’”

The BIE’s approval was needed because of a 1995 moratorium on new educational programs funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Band argued that the BIE would not need to invest money because there was already a school building at Pine Grove. In fact, the Bureau could save money as a result of reduced transportation costs.

Many District III students over the years have commuted more than two hours to Nay Ah Shing from as far as Lake Lena and even Danbury, Wisconsin, Joycelyn said. It was not uncommon for kids to bring pillows and blankets onto the bus. “That long ride is hard on kids,” Joycelyn said, “and participating in sports or after school programming was not an option for them.”

Joycelyn said other Band members have been working hard to provide educational opportunities in District III for more than 10 years. Dave Matrious and the late Beatrice Taylor kept the issue at the forefront, and Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin has also been a proponent since she was first elected in 2000. Benjamin lobbied for the project on a trip to Washington D.C. in March.

“It’s those people who really kept the whole initiative alive in people’s minds,” Joycelyn said.

Shelly Diaz, the Band’s education planner, was instrumental in the proposal for Pine Grove School to become an extension of Nay Ah Shing School. She received help from education consultant Dr. Jane Harstad, who helped the Band make the case with the BIE.

Joycelyn also credits Dr. Rick St. Germaine, who has helped the Band operate Pine Grove as a charter school, an online school, and a private school since it first opened in 2007.

The school building can accommodate up to 45 students, Joycelyn said. For now, it will be open to K-5 students, with two licensed teachers and a learning coach on site.

Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin gave credit to Joycelyn for her hard work. “I am excited for the Aazhoomog community to have this wonderful school as part of the Nay Ah Shing system,” Melanie said.

Joycelyn said, “We were only able to do this because of the Chief Executive’s work lobbying this legislation through the Congress specifically for Mille Lacs. She made many, many trips to D.C. to get this legislation through for Mille Lacs, which is why we are the first and only tribe in the country to achieve this status.”