Expectations on Pine Ridge

Yesterday I went to Pine Ridge to help with a youth program called Young Life.

Young Life is a program for teenagers in middle school and high school that provides a safe place for them to hang out. It’s like a loosely-structured youth group.

As a pre-service teacher, I LOVE working with kids this age. There is just something about their energy and vigor for life that is infectious. Teenagers are confused, self-conscious, frustrating, energetic, positive, and so much fun to work with.

I was sitting with a group of middle school boys, trying to make conversation, when all of a sudden their hands went to their noses.


A smell pungent like rotten eggs filled my nostrils.

rotten eggs


All I could muster was, “Oh my gosh!” as I also put my hands over my nose.

The boys broke out in a chorus of “he did it” accompanying finger-pointing and big laughs at our misfortunate noses. The rest of the night they laughed at my reaction.

Yes, this was a nasty experience but I wish you could have seen the vigor and life these boys exerted. They were just boys being boys.

pineridgeFor those of you that don’t know, Pine Ridge is an Indian reservation in South Dakota. The high rate of alcoholism, poverty, and disease is daunting.


Yet, I didn’t see alcoholic, poor, and disease-infested teenagers. Although the teens are statistically facing these challenges, I didn’t treat them as those statistics.

Honestly, they were just like the teens I work with at the youth group at home. Aside from the Pine Ridge kids nonchalantly talking about vodka, there was practically no difference.

This is why I’m disappointed that society holds negative viewpoints about the kids on the reservation. So many people clump them together and just say, “They have issues.” Of course they have issues; all teenagers have issues. But because they may have more issues than the ‘regular’ kid (whatever that is) I like them even more

On our way back from Pine Ridge, another pre-service teacher and I were talking about the potential the teens have and how their potential exceeds the low standards society has for them.

In the two hours I was with them, I saw their potential.

A different group of boys were trying to convince me that they all had these really strange names. This one teen, in particular, went on a long tangent about how his name is [insert weird name].

I told him that even though I didn’t think that was his name, I admired his conviction.

His quickly retorted, “What’s that?”

The teen sitting next to him said, “Dude, it’s like being serious!”

“Yes! That’s exactly right! I’m definitely impressed,” I said.

From that point forward, the guys kept showing off their smarts. They knew that leap year came every four years (although they didn’t know the exact day it was in February) and they too had the same energetic attitude towards life that the first group of guys exemplified.

Because of this, I would absolutely love to be their teacher and to see them write about basketball, football, music, farting, etc., etc., etc. I would love to help them channel their energy and untapped potential into literature and writing.

So why does society have such low expectations? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s just the stereotype. Maybe the kids achieve society’s low expectations and just stop trying because that’s all they’re expected to do.

Yesterday I had a professor tell me that I can’t reach every kid in the classroom. Unfortunately, that’s the expectation for teachers. But I know for certain I won’t live up to society’s expectation for teachers.

I’ll set my own expectations and make a fool of them all.