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MERCER: As GEAR UP winds down, new leaders have emerged

PIERRE -- South Dakota's second grant for the GEAR UP program runs out in late September 2018. There aren't plans to apply for a third grant from the federal government, according to Peggy Diekhoff. That might be too bad. During the hour spent wi...

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PIERRE - South Dakota's second grant for the GEAR UP program runs out in late September 2018.

There aren't plans to apply for a third grant from the federal government, according to Peggy Diekhoff.

That might be too bad.

During the hour spent with her at the Indian education conference, first in conversation and then watching the Tuesday presentation she and Murray Lee made, they seemed like the kind of people South Dakota should have always had leading GEAR UP.

They didn't talk about what happened during the decade when Mid-Central Educational Cooperative in Platte managed GEAR UP in South Dakota.

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Second, they sounded dedicated to its success. Their goals are to increase academic performance and the graduation rate.

Third, they seemed intent on helping GEAR UP improve, even though they know the program is less than 12 months from its end in South Dakota.

The purpose of GEAR UP is to increase awareness among students in middle schools and high schools who come from lower-income households there are opportunities for continuing their education after high school graduation.

Diekhoff has run GEAR UP for South Dakota since late spring of 2016.

Black Hills State University hired her as project director, after she worked for 30 years in the Todd County public school system, on the Rosebud Indian reservation, as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. Lee is statewide coordinator of events.

"It's been an amazing, amazing journey," she said.

In what she described as "a huge shift," the new leaders don't provide materials and supplies any longer as the 50 percent local match for the federal funds.

Instead they provide four regional coordinators.

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The four serve 13 middle schools and 10 high schools, in 13 districts, on seven of the nine Indian reservations within South Dakota.

The regional coordinators spend four days out of five traveling school to school. Each school gets a visit at least once per week. They regularly communicate with Diekhoff and Lee using the business version of Skype videoconferencing.

Seven of the local schools have local coordinators too, including St. Francis Indian School. "Some of them don't have full staffs already," she said.

Diekhoff grew up at Wessington, went to Huron College for two years, transferred to St. Cloud State in Minnesota and began as a teacher in the Todd County district's South Elementary. That was 30 years ago.

The opportunity came out of the blue to be a part of the new start for GEAR UP in 2016.

The session Tuesday afternoon was the final one of the last day. Four conference participants attended. One, who described himself as an Outward Bound participant, praised Diekhoff for her work. Tears came to her eyes.

"Maybe there is a way to keep it going," she said. "We're not going to give up yet."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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