By Myron Madden
|The reservation’s church and South Dakota hills in the background, Southern Adventist University 2014 graduate Jamie Howell stands outside her one-room schoolhouse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Southern Adventist University encourages students to embrace its mission of service and provide assistance to those in need. For an educator, that means offering students a warm smile and a safe space — and that’s exactly what one alum intends to do on a reservation where suicide attempts have become the norm.
Jamie Howell, ’14, has been working with the Dakota Conference to start a one-teacher elementary school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The conference approached Howell with the project after she spent a year working at Dakota Adventist Academy.
“We’ve never had someone like Jamie,” said Bill Glassford, director of Dakota Conference’s Native Ministries. “I think the Lord chose her. She was the one we were looking for.”
Payabya Adventist Mission School will be held in the converted two-car garage under Howell’s apartment. Though the accommodations may be small, Howell believes the school could be a beacon of light to its students.
Since December 2014, the number of suicides among young people ages 12 to 24 on the reservation have spiked. Between December and May, nine young people took their lives, and at least another 103 people of the same age attempted to do the same, the New York Times reported. Many of these deaths have been attributed to the oppression, abuse, and high drug usage that surround children on the reservation, but as the number of suicide attempts have increased, more causes have been considered. One such cause is bullying—a problem Howell is ready to tackle by creating a comfortable environment.
“My goal is to give the kids a safe place to come to every day if they don’t have it at home,” Howell said. “Most of our students seem to have a good home situation, but you never know here.”
Though Howell does not believe her students will be tempted to take their lives because of their stable backgrounds, she knows they might be affected by family or friends who have already committed suicide — another suspected trigger for the numerous suicide attempts.
“They tell the kids that life is a lot better on the ‘other side,’ and many kids want that better life so they commit suicide,” Howell said. “As a Christian, I can help them understand that you aren’t going to find out what’s on the other side until Jesus comes.”
As she prepares to embark on this challenging and exciting journey, Howell has realized the value of her time as an elementary education major at Southern. Student teaching gave her the opportunity to teach in a multi-grade classroom while exposing her to people who didn’t know about God. Her experience serving as a missionary in Bolivia prepared her to adapt to a different culture and readied her to be thrust out of her comfort zone. Most importantly, her professors taught her how to create a safe environment where students will be excited to learn through words and example, and these same professors still help her today.
“The professors in the education department are great,” Howell said. “They are always willing to answer any question that I have. If I need help with something, I can call them or email them or text, and they’ll help me if they can.”
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