United Tribes News

Staying in School
By Emmaline Tallman Fillspipe, UTTC Teacher Education Graduate
26 January 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - I attended United Tribes Technical College from August 2004 to May 2008. I was blessed to find a program called Prairie Alliance for Special Education in the college’s Teacher Education Department.

      It was difficult for me to get used to Bismarck and its surroundings when I came to UTTC with my daughter, Ilyanna, who was still in day care, and my husband. But I knew I had to adjust because this was going to be my home for the next four years. I also knew that I had to cope with my feelings for the reservation and my relatives and create a new outlook for my life in school.

Emmaline’s grandmother Ramona Tallman, Allen, SD, saw Emmaline graduate from UTTC in May 2008.

      It turned out that I came to love Bismarck. Eventually I became grateful for everything I experienced and everyone I met. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

      My resolve was tested during my first semester. My aunt, who was like a mother to me, became ill and was in the hospital for a month before she passed away. Despite the pain and loneliness, I did not move back home; I stayed.

      But it was a struggle to stay at school. I didn’t miss the reservation as much as I missed the people, the individuals themselves. I mostly missed my grandma. Each time I went home I saw her getting older. I appreciated her more after being away and she became another reason for me to finish school.

      As time went on, school felt like it was never going to end. Each semester became a struggle. I always had to find a reason to finish.

      Then, my grandma’s little sister became sick. We called her Grandma Tiny. When I returned home one weekend to see how she was, I learned she had passed away. Her funeral was going to be during the week. I told my mom with regret that I had to do my field experience training. She explained to me that Grandma Tiny would understand that getting this education was very important. Still I kept calling my mom and asking how everything was, I felt like I should have been there. Grandma Tiny was buried with my high school satin star quilt.

      My son was born in December 2005. My due date was December 18 but because it was between semesters I scheduled my C-section for December 8. That way I would have four weeks to heal and go back to school.

      Through my daily routine and life back home, I would sometimes just drop my shoulders. I felt it was too hard to stay at school. Often I would confide in two of my instructors, Lisa Azure and Leah Hamann, who helped make school life bearable.

“As time went on, school felt like it was never going to end. Each semester became a struggle. I always had to find a reason to finish.”

      I remember the times when money was tight and my smile was forced. I would always look to my children to make sure they were okay. I would see their smiling faces. They were fed, clothed, and they were happy, and that made me feel we would be okay.

      Then, on December 9, 2007, we had an apartment fire. It started early in the morning when my husband was away on a hunting trip. My son and daughter and I escaped with only a few clothes and waited with neighbors for the fire department. I could see my children watching me when I began to cry, so I tried to suck up the tears and watch as my apartment burned.

      After the fire was out we were allowed back in to see what was left. I didn’t think it would be so bad until I saw all my teacher clothes covered with soot. I had bought these over the three years I was in school. They were to be used for my student teaching and now everything was destroyed.

      As the days went on, I became grateful for what I had left, especially my family. To be safe and together was all we needed. With only a month before the beginning of student teaching, we moved to a new apartment and worked to make it into a home for us. Despite the setback, life moved along fine.

      During my student teaching I came upon some new barriers. I student taught in 6th grade for eight weeks and 2nd grade for another eight weeks in the Bismarck Public Schools. During that time I was challenged to understand the many different views of parents, teachers and students. I encountered some prejudice and racism, but I never took it upon myself to absorb those feelings. Instead I stood tall and said to myself, “I’m from the rez and I AM a real fighting Sioux.” I knew I had strong values: courage, generosity, wisdom and fortitude. No one could take those away from me. The experience made me a better person than I thought I could be.

      When May arrived it was time for graduation. Because of the price of gas at the time, my family caravanned in two cars from Allen, SD, six hours away. I was ecstatic that they came to see me graduate with a Bachelors Degree. I was the first one in my immediate family to earn a Bachelors Degree.

      It was a proud moment for me. I was grateful that my grandma was there to see me. On the way up to get my diploma, my mom gave me a hug and said she was going to walk me up to the stage. That did it. Tears fell from my eyes like rain. “I did this,” I told myself as I walked across the stage. Fourteen years after I vowed to graduate from college, my goal was achieved!

      After graduation I finished the second part of my student teaching in Special Education at Loneman School, Oglala, SD. Now I’m waiting for my teacher’s certificate. I work in a self contained classroom and I enjoy every minute of teaching.

      Recently, when I saw my friends who are still at United Tribes, I said to them: “I’m here to tell you that school really does end.”

      I told them I know what they’re going through. And I can tell you this: everything passes, even the worst times you have in school. If you stick it out, you continue down the road and you are grateful.

      I believe that absolutely nothing happens in this world by mistake. Everything will make you a better person. And when you achieve your goal, like I did, you look back and know how important it was that you stayed in school.

      My school days are not over. I plan on getting a Masters degree and after that a Ph.D.

      Why a Ph.D.? Well because while growing up I would always say, “If my grandpa was alive, I’d be a doctor.” In his honor, I will.

Emmaline Tallman Fillspipe completed her BS degree in Special Education and Elementary Education from Sinte Gleska University in December 2008. She participated in the Prairie Alliance for Special Education Program (Department of Education/OSEP), a partnership between UTTC and SGU to increase the number of highly qualified special education teachers. She is now a teacher at Loneman School, Oglala, SD. Emmaline wrote of her college experience to share encouragement with others who may encounter difficulty on their higher education journey. – Editor


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