Press "Enter" to skip to content

Young South Dakota Teacher Falls in Love with Spring Creek, Fights Racism

Last updated on 2014.08.28

So I'm sitting on the curb in Mission and a gal named for an Italian artist walks up and talks to me about eradicating institutional racism in South Dakota.

These things happen. Pull up a seat with us on the curb.

Morandi Hurst, teacher, Spring Creek Elementary
Morandi Hurst, teacher, Spring Creek Elementary (Photo from M. Hurst)

Morandi Hurst grew up in Rapid City. She majored in history at Vassar. She missed the Plains and wanted to benefit her home state and her community, so after graduating in 2010, she came home. But since she wasn't into welding, jobs were scarce. With regret but needing to pay the bills, she got ready to leave for a job in L.A.

But a day before decamping, she got a call from a friend working for Teach for America at Spring Creek Elementary, by the Little White River on the Rosebud Reservation. Spring Creek needed a teacher's aide (paraprofessional, we write impressively on résumés). Wanna come? her friend asked.

Hurst saddled up, headed east, and fell in love. Spring Creek, she says, is the most beautiful place in the world (and this from a gal who grew up in the Black Hills). Spring Creek kids and parents, she found, are delightful. She worked alongside Kate Haswell in a mixed grade 1–8 classroom and decided she wanted to be a teacher.

Ah, but adding teaching certification to her degree would take a year and cost about $10,000, and lovely as they are, the trees of the Little White River canyon grow neither money nor time.

Fortunately, Hurst found a quicker, cheaper option. The friend who recruited her was one of three Teach for America teachers at Spring Creek. All three inspired Hurst to join TFA, which would pay for her certification and put her in a classroom right away. It wasn't easy: Hurst had to attend a five-week boot camp in Phoenix teaching children in summer school (talk about learning on the fly) and commit to cramming all the contact hours required for teaching certification around full-time work during the school year, but she did it.

Spring Creek didn't have an opening during her first year in TFA. She thus taught and obtained her certification at Littleburg Elementary (still in the heavily Native American Todd County district), then transferred to Spring Creek for her second year in TFA.

TFA recruits serve two years. But Hurst, like a third of TFA's alumni since 1990, remains in the classroom. She is starting her third year as a teacher at Spring Creek Elementary, this time around teaching grade 6–8 reading and math. And like every proud teacher, she rattles her Spring Creek students' accomplishments: four students on full scholarships to Phillips Exeter Academy summer school; an eighth grader studying earth science through the University of California-Irvine on full scholarship; another eighth grader winning a national poetry award; three Spring Creekers winning the statewide science fair; half the students enrolling in Saturday enrichment classes taught by teachers volunteering their time.... All of those accomplishments and more, Hurst says, belie the bad reputation that too many South Dakotans give to Indian students and schools.

Hurst loves her work and her school. But why do that work here, in South Dakota? She says she believes we all should serve our home, and her passion is here.

And then, as we sit on the curb in Mission, she says we need to fight this fight.

What fight? I ask.

The fight for "educational equity for Native American students," says Hurst. That means giving her Spring Creek kids to have the same opportunities as white kids. That means seeing Indian kids graduate at the same rate as white kids. That means making institutional racism no more.

And how do you erase institutional racism in your classroom? I ask.

I don't, says Hurst. I live through my students, help them learn, and help them build a strong sense of self and community so they can fight that fight themselves.

So that's how we eradicate institutional racism. Funny the things we learn on the curb in Mission.


  1. bearcreekbat 2014.08.20

    Morandi and those who think like her give me optimism and hope for the future.

  2. lee schoenbeck 2014.08.20

    she's a bright young lady. she has some insights into the challenges that educators face in Indian country that you must not have gotten into. I was impressed with her frankness. Her insights might not sit well with some of the politcal orientations of your blog's constituency - but she can be brutally honest. Loved her being at the Blogmore hunt - you better come back this year Cory

  3. Sam Hurst 2014.08.20

    Someone should duly note that the "friend" who inspired Morandi to come to Spring Creek is Rapid City local, Loy Maierhauser, who taught at Spring Creek for three years, then mentored young TFA teachers in Oklahoma for two years and is now living in Bozeman, Montana, working with children in after school programs.

  4. Steve Hickey 2014.08.20

    A real South Dakota hero in my book.

  5. Jenny 2014.08.20

    The question is - does Ms Hurst plan on staying in SD? It is so tempting to move elsewhere when the stakes are so high in Dakota.

  6. John Tsitrian 2014.08.20

    Congrats, Sam, on turning out such a wunderkind.

  7. mikeyc, that's me! 2014.08.20

    Is that your daughter Sam?

  8. Sam Hurst 2014.08.20

    The good news keeps on rolling…a shout out to one of Morandi's Spring Creek 8th graders, Natalie Bordeaux, who came home from the Philips Exeter Summer School last week and learned today that she has been awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship to pay for her education all the way through college.

  9. Denise Du Broy 2014.08.20

    The stakes are high in many states and in many communities! So proud of dedicated teachers, students and parents at Spring Creek and everywhere else. Best wishes for this upcoming school year!

  10. Paul Seamans 2014.08.20

    This was really a great story. On the reservations, as everywhere else, a good education is the basis of a happy and productive life.

  11. Danylle Rozier 2014.08.20

    I had the honor to work with Morandi, Kate, and Loy. They are amazing teachers and deserve great props. I know the challenges Morandi faces everyday. She inspires her students to overcome adversity and helps them to see their potential. The Todd County School District is lucky to have her and I know she feels lucky to work with Spring Creek's kiddos.

  12. Steve Sibson 2014.08.20

    "This was really a great story. On the reservations, as everywhere else, a good education is the basis of a happy and productive life."

    Sorry, but education is workforce development that provides human capital for crony capitalists. I would like to change that:

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.20

    Sure, Steve, let's not educate.

    And seriously, let's not hijack this post about young, ambitious teachers doing extremely difficult work in communities that a lot of us write off. We'll discuss your views and your run for the Mitchell school board in a separate post... perhaps on your own blog?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.20

    I'm glad to bring Morandi's story to you, folks. And Sam, I'm glad you're able to provide those extra details! It was a pleasure finally getting to talk to your daughter. More people need to know about and learn from her work and the work of her colleagues at Spring Creek.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.08.20

    This is a wonderful story. Best wishes to all the teachers and students on any rez.

    I taught at Stephan in 1981-82, freshman English. It's the Crow Creek high school. I had previously taught for 6 years in 2 very small East River schools. There were good kids at those East River schools. No criticism of them.

    The intelligence, creativity, athleticism, compassion and skills of the students at Stephan just blew me away. Poets, artists, philosophers, scientists, etc. Who knew? Not me. Not most of SD or the USA.

    My overriding thought was this: "If this were a white school, with all this talent and potential not being fostered and encouraged, all interested parties would be raising noisy hell about it and heads would roll!"

    It is a travesty. Really, truly a travesty.

  16. Roger Cornelius 2014.08.20

    Young South Dakotans continue to amaze me, I met Ms. Josie Weiland at Rickstock and expressed my appreciation in fighting against SB128.
    Ms. Morandi obviously had other opportunities in far more exciting places, her choice is a reflection of her strong character and devotion to her calling.
    Now, if South Dakota politicians can work hard to keep the Ms. Weiland and Morandi's in the state, but will they?

  17. Steve Sibson 2014.08.21

    "So that's how we eradicate institutional racism.'

    With crony capitalism:

    The education non-profit Teach for America has been under increasing fire recently as critics and alumni accuse the organization of misappropriating their original mission by backing the policies of the "corporate education agenda" that promote privatization, the expansion of charter schools and the undermining of teachers unions.

    These criticisms come amidst news last week that Wal-Mart owners, the Walton Family—key backers of charter school expansion and the effort to end teacher protections—donated $20 million to the nonprofit for "recruitment, training and professional development," bringing their total support for TFA to over $100 million since 1993.

  18. Mike Quinlivan 2014.08.21

    Hell just froze over. Mr. Sibson just used an uber-lefty magazine as a supporting source? Check out your windows people; is brimstone raining upon us?

  19. Roger Cornelius 2014.08.21

    If you scroll down, there is another thread that discusses TFA, why are you so intent in hijacking and making distracting comments about the success of Ms. Morandi?

    She has made a significant contribution and has mad a personal sacrifice to benefit the Spring Creek community.

    I hope your attempts to diminish Ms. Morandi's story dies and dies hard and fast, unlike the way you destroyed Nathan's celebratory moment by coming out of the closet.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.21

    I have decided the concerns about privatization/corporatization that others may raise about TFA are irrelevant to the discussion of meeting educational needs in South Dakota. Morandi's efforts in the classroom are far removed from these abstract concerns. She and her colleagues probably glance up from their immense and important work at such comments, give them a "whatever" shrug, and return immediately to doing practical good for their students and their communities.

    To be frank, I needed to get my head out of my ideological arse to see that. Steve, on this post and this issue, I invite you to join me in cranial–gluteal extraction.

Comments are closed.