Into the World with Courage

Celebrating Our Dakota Memorial School Graduates

Into the World with Courage

Dakota Memorial School (DMS), the on-campus school of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, is specially designed for children with trauma histories.

One of the unique elements of the school is that children transfer in and out of the school in the individualized ways that meet their needs. While in residential treatment at the Ranch, some children attend DMS and others attend public school. Some do a great deal of "credit recovery" at DMS, putting them back on track to graduate. Some leave DMS when they leave treatment, while others stay as day students after completing care. Some come to DMS as day students without ever having been in treatment at the Ranch. Some choose to return to their home school just in time to graduate with their home school class. And, every year, several choose to celebrate their High School Graduation with us. Here are the stories of two of our 2021 Dakota Memorial School graduates.


The last thing Kylee's grandpa told her before he died from cancer in October 2020 was that he wanted her to graduate from high school. "He told me all he wanted was for me to live a better life and to graduate from high school. After he passed away, that was my goal. I wanted to finish high school."

When Kylee came to the Ranch, she had very few credits toward graduation, so her goal of graduating wasn't going to be easy.

Her first days and weeks at the Ranch were difficult. "I hated the structure at the Ranch. I wasn't used to people telling me what to do or where to be. In my home life, I didn't have structure. My parents were never around, and I was with my grandma and grandpa most of the time. They just let me ding around and do whatever I wanted."

But in the end, structure was what made the difference. "I found out the people here really cared and wanted what was best for me. They showed that every day by being there for me."

This was Kylee's second time at the Ranch. "I wasn't ready to change the first time around," Kylee said. "But this time I'm doing a lot of things differently."

Kylee said her growing faith also made a difference. "I met Monica, my cottage Case Manager," Kylee said, "and she helped me find God again. That's what drastically changed a lot of things. I just had a different outlook on life after that. I've had bumpy roads everywhere, but the path I'm on now is really smooth. I have more stability with God because I just know that everything He has planned for me is for the best."

Kylee, with the help and encouragement of her teachers and DMS principal, Tina DeGree, completed the credits she needed to graduate; walked proudly down into the gym on graduation day as the first person from her mother's side of the family to ever graduate from high school. She received an educational scholarship from the Ranch's Knutson Scholarship Fund and is now attending Lynnes Welding School.

Where would Kylee be without the Ranch? "I didn't think I'd live to be 18, and I never thought I'd graduate. But now I'm going to welding school. My goal is to simply move in a positive direction, knowing that major strides often begin with very small steps."


Ethan came to Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch at the beginning of his junior year. While at the Ranch he attended Dakota Memorial School, and he benefited so much from the one-on-one instruction, that he stayed at DMS once he completed residential treatment and moved home.

"I didn't do well in school before coming to the Ranch. Even though my school was small, it was still too big for me. I didn't get my work done," Ethan said.

Ethan also benefited from the therapy he received at the Ranch. "I'm super anxious and I learned a lot of ways to deal with the anxiety and with my dad. I learned how to not make him mad. I also learned about myself and how to be comfortable with who I am."

Ethan doesn't think he would have graduated without Dakota Memorial School. "The teachers worked with me one-on-one. I took several classes from Mr. Meier in the shop, and he took me under his wing. And Mrs. Ballantyne helped me figure out all my college stuff. Now I'm super excited to attend Williston State College to be a diesel mechanic."

The staff and teachers are proud of Ethan and the changes he has made.

Principal Tina DeGree said, "Ethan has worked hard to complete his high school requirements and has transformed into a young man with visible self-worth and determination to meet his future goals."

We are so proud of our graduates and are excited to see where they go from here.

This article was originally published in Ranch Voice: Summer 2021.

Read more stories like this and explore other issues of Ranch Voice here.

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