On Monday, November 3, CRYP will launch its fall semester of Main University, one of the not-for-profit youth organization’s most popular and enduring programs. Recipient of a “Champion for Children” award from the South Dakota Coalition for Children, Main University is designed for 4- to 12-year-olds who attend The Main youth center; it was founded by former long-term volunteer Tracie Farrell in 2002.

Main University allows participants to take short courses that mimic those offered in a college setting. The courses give Cheyenne River children a chance to study subjects that may not be offered in school. The program uses language from higher education, such as “university,” “credits” and “valedictorian,” to familiarize students with their options in and after high school.

“Main University is exciting for our younger children, because they get to choose which courses they take based on their interests, which is how higher education works,” said Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director. “We want our kids to learn the importance of taking responsibility for their attendance, for their classroom work, and for any of their take-home projects. We also want them to follow their passions and see how learning can be interesting and fun.”

This year, Eagle Hunter and her staff of four youth programs assistants have created the lesson plans for the five hourlong courses, and all five staff members will serve as instructors. This fall’s courses will focus on art, diabetes education, and financial literacy.

Eagle Hunter, a longtime artist, will teach “ Acrylic Painting.”

“I love to paint, so I’m excited to share something that helps me relieve stress with our kids,” she said. “I’m also looking forward to seeing how they gain confidence in themselves through the use of different artistic media.”

Jeryca Widow-Rivers will teach “Decorative Art.” In this course, children will learn how to make attractive, durable wall hangings for the home. And Wendell Yazzie will teach “Traditional Art,” with projects including ledger art, dreamcatchers, drumsticks, and beading.

“We’re thrilled that Wendell, who attended our Cokata Wiconi teen center when he was younger, wants to teach ledger art and do a special project with the kids on winter counts,” Eagle Hunter said. “Our new art park here at CRYP is called Waniyetu Wowapi, which means ‘winter count’ in Lakota. It’ll be wonderful to be able to teach our kids more about that traditional art form and its significance to our people.”

In addition to the three art courses, CRYP will offer two courses aimed at diabetes prevention. Nate Widow will teach “The History of Basketball,” a course designed to tap into local kids’ existing interest in the sport. Widow — who, like Yazzie, attended Cokata Wiconi as a teen — will offer lessons that blend history, famous figures, and physical activity.

“Basketball is huge on Cheyenne River, so we’re hoping for great attendance,” Eagle Hunter said. “This class is designed to teach kids about the sport’s origins and heritage while also encouraging them to be active, improve their skills, and have fun on the court.”

Joseph White Eyes will teach “Get Moving,” which teaches children about the healthy effects of walking on the heart and body. Students will participate in CRYP’s Walking Club as part of the course, learning about physical fitness and stress relief in the process.

“Joseph attended both The Main and Cokata Wiconi,” Eagle Hunter noted. “He understands the importance of diabetes education for our people, and the lessons our children will learn in the ‘Get Moving’ course will serve them well throughout their lives.”

Finally, Four Bands Community Fund is joining forces with CRYP to offer a special financial literacy course during this semester of Main University.

“It’s never too soon to learn about financial responsibility and money management,” Eagle Hunter said. “Four Bands has a variety of creative methods to teach these subjects to younger children, including games that teach the kids about spending, saving, and budgets. This is a great opportunity for our kids, and we’re deeply grateful to the team at Four Bands for their partnership and support.”

Each Main University course is assigned its own weekday. Classes are held at 5-6 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. at The Main, Monday through Friday, and the children must attend 16 or more classes to graduate. This year’s graduation ceremony is tentatively scheduled for Monday, December 1.

“If you can’t join us right away on November 3, don’t worry,” Eagle Hunter said. “You’ll still have time to participate. Just join us as soon as you can, and make sure to attend 16 classes. Then you can take part in our graduation ceremony and celebration.

“Main University is always exciting for us as a staff,” she continued. “It’s so much fun to see how our kids progress each semester, and take an active role in their education — choosing classes based on their interests and aspirations, discovering new subject matter, embracing new skills, interacting with instructors, and even working closely with classmates. These are valuable life skills that will make a difference at the high school and post-secondary levels.”

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.