Offering Lakota Girls a ‘New Beginning’

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024

Victoria Shorr still remembers the eagle that soared over her students on the opening day of the academy she co-founded eight years ago: Pine Ridge Girls’ School (PRGS).

“The ancestors are with these girls,” a school board member said after spotting the bird. “I took that to heart,” Shorr says.

Shorr’s heart for educating girls led her to open PRGS – the only independent all-female school on a Native American reservation – for students in grades 6-12. The high school dropout rate is 70% on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where more than half of residents experience poverty, a quarter of newborns have fetal alcohol syndrome, and suicides hit crisis levels. Shorr was determined to change this. 

The school started with seven students, but it quickly grew to a current enrollment of 25, with hopes of  eventually educating most of the 200 middle and high school girls on the Reservation.

But even those not yet enrolled are feeling the effects. Suicide rates for young teens have dropped dramatically since the School’s founding. As for the PRGS students, “They’re not thinking of killing themselves,” Shorr says. “Instead, they’re filling out college applications.”

The rigorous education they receive at PRGS has helped all students improve in reading, and most have improved in math as well. Shorr attributes their success to the School’s culturally responsive curriculum.

“I like that we can learn about our culture and medicines and language and our ways of life. I’m lucky to have a school like this,” says student Brittny. Student Shay adds, “What I like about the school is learning Lakota teachings, the Inípis, and the meditation room. Along with our cook and the traditional food.”

The Challenges of Operating an Independent School

Anpo Wicahpi, the school’s Lakota name, means “morning star” and symbolizes new beginnings. Even as PRGS makes huge strides for the young girls from the Oglala Lakota Nation, the School still faces challenges. Enrollment dropped when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and leaders have struggled to hire personnel amid a national teacher shortage. While PRGS has vans to transport students to school, finding drivers to transport girls from all corners of the vast Pine Ridge will never be easy. It’s no wonder that students dream of the day when there’s a dorm at the school.

“We learned early on that there were girls who really wanted that possibility, sometimes because of difficult living conditions at home, sometimes because sheer distances and bad weather make the back and forth too difficult,” says Carole Goldberg, a PRGS co-founder.

On a reservation with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and food insecurity, the students’ needs go beyond transportation. They also include athletic facilities for daily exercise and a new kitchen to ensure that students get daily, nutritious meals. Since PRGS does not receive government funding and is tuition-free, simply raising money for the annual budget can be grueling. 

“These girls matter,” she says. “We’re constantly emphasizing the service to this community and to these girls, and seeing them flourish is so rewarding that it propels us forward.”


Pine Ridge Girls’ School

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(605) 455-1812
Head of School: Jennifer Stover


Pine Ridge Girls’ School radically changes the trajectory of Lakota girls’ lives by equipping them with vital foundations for new and promising futures full of choice and opportunity.

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