What Is Onward Learning?

Onward Learning is a 501(c)3 nonprofit located in Martin, South Dakota.  We opened our elementary school in September of 2022.  The vision of Onward Learning is to provide an affordable and equitable alternative educational option for the families in our community. 


At Onward Learning, we focus on the healthy development of the whole child rather than on what is needed to pass a test or earn a passing grade.  We don’t use a scripted curriculum and instead utilize various resources from well-established educational models and philosophies.  With such a unique student population, it became clear early on there would not be one particular curriculum that would meet the needs of our students and families.  That being said, we have worked to create a learning experience that provides our students with necessary skills and knowledge academically, while also honoring each of our students’ unique strengths, interests, and needs.  

A typical day includes  art, music, exercise, time in nature, STEAM projects, Lakota language practice, practical life skills work, reading, math, civics, and time spent sharing a meal.  We also incorporate various field trips to local businesses, farms, and ranches.  In our school, you will see children singing, playing, building, collaborating, and learning in a variety of ways.  


At Onward, we do not test regularly and instead use observation to determine the proper timing of presenting students with new information and experiences.  Learning is child-centered and children are given the freedom each day to explore areas of interest to deepen their understanding across all core subjects.   We know that mistakes and failures bring about growth and deeper understanding and encourage our students to take risks, ask hard questions, and seek out answers to difficult problems.  Our goal is to nurture self-directed learners who approach each day with curiosity and an eagerness to learn, We believe becoming self-directed learners will serve them well into adulthood. 



Every day at Onward is filled with rich learning experiences and our children work very hard each day.  We do not assign homework ever.  If a child misses school, they may have some catching up to do, but we feel evenings should be quality family time.  In our society, we tell adults to leave work at work.  On the other hand, we see most schools expect children to spend 7 plus hours at school and then go home to do more school work.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Their little minds and bodies need time to regroup and refresh just as much, if not more, than we do as adults. 

Physical Activity

Physical activity, the arts, real-world experiences, and time in nature is seen as a right, not a privilege.  All children have ample time each day experiencing all of this.  These valuable experiences will never be used as punishment or rewards.  


We do not introduce technology until 5th grade and even then, it is used minimally.  We acknowledge the importance and benefits of technology, but also believe there is a delicate balance when it comes to the healthy development of young minds. 

Class Sizes

Our student to teacher ratio is never more than 8:1 up to age 5 and 12:1 ages 6 and up.  Our students learn in multi-age classrooms, giving them a social learning environment that resembles the real world in a more realistic way.  

Discipline & Behavior Intervention

We have no formal discipline or punishment program and approach each challenging behavior from a place of love and a desire to understand rather than to punish.  Boundaries and expectations are discussed and established, but the children are guided in holding themselves and each other to high standards.  


We have a community-led leadership model.  Our teachers and administration work collaboratively to solve problems and make decisions.  All teachers have full autonomy in their classrooms and are trusted to do what is best for their students each and every day. 

Get In Touch!

Have Questions? Want to Get Involved? Need more Information?

We want to hear from you!

Call Us

(605) 515-3262

Mailing Address

PO Box 1037

Martin, SD 57551

Located in Martin, South Dakota near the Pine Ridge Reservation.