Guest Bloggers: Mike and April

This past mid-term, five of our boys were on the honor roll and two were very close, which is awesome for freshman.  We call that success!!
This past mid-term, five of our boys were on the honor roll and two were very close, which is awesome for freshman. We call that success!!

Hey everyone, this is Mike and April from the Carola Home.

This time of year our boys are balancing school and athletics as well as preparing to go home for the holidays. This can be an overwhelming time for all the boys, but especially the freshman.

Freshmen have already been adjusting to new houseparents, new school, new curriculum and new friends. Our four Juniors have had a couple of years to learn what works for them to succeed in all areas.  However, our three Freshmen still have a lot to learn and this is usually the hardest time of their high school years.

Thankfully, our Juniors have taken our Freshmen under their wings and given them advice on how to deal with homework – number one being do not get behind with missing assignments – classes and teachers, where to go and who you may have to be extra nice to. 🙂 And of course advice on their houseparents – don’t try that, they won’t let you get away with this, handle your business and they won’t make it theirs.

Each student has their own ways to succeed and all seven of our boys are doing just that, succeeding. With all that high school life brings to offer our boys, they are doing an amazing job keeping up with it all.

In our eyes my boys are all number one!!!!
In our eyes my boys are all number one!!!!

St. Joseph’s gives the boys a lot of support with the learning center, which is run by our High School Academic Advisor, Steve. Steve works with Chamberlain High School to help them with their homework.  Our Transitional Specialist, Pam, helps our Juniors with upcoming college trips and helps them plan for the future after St. Joseph’s.

Basketball season has started with Errol, Cody, William and Kyle playing for the Chamberlain Cubs. Our home will be attending many games in the next couple of months to support their fellow classmates.

Shawn is involved in CHS’s Wrestling Team.  We also have one student Dean, who has been actively preparing for the past several weeks to attend LNI (the Lakota Nation Invitational), to participate in the Knowledge Bowl Competition. Trey, one of our Freshmen, is not in any sports. He thought it would be best to give all his focus on his schoolwork, so he can continue his streak of no missing assignments and A honor roll.

Support and patience at St. Joseph’s Indian School

We had a couple of funerals the past two days that affected many people on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. Yesterday, a teenager who was a student at St. Joseph’s a couple of years ago, was laid to rest on the Crow Creek Indian reservation. She has a couple of siblings still here at St. Joseph’s and lots of cousins. We had about 15 students checked out to be with family during these sad days. Several homes made their presence felt at the wakes over the weekend. Shauntae and her family are in all our prayers.

Richard was one of our custodians until his battle with cancer made it necessary to quit work and focus full-time on treatment. He fought a long and courageous battle, but he too died this past week. His wife Mary still works at St. Joseph’s. I noticed a good crowd of co-workers that showed their support during the wake and funeral.

We get many letters each day from people who ask us to pray for them during their time of grief and loss. It’s a part of the human condition none of us escape. My prayer is that those who mourn will know the care and support of people around them to help get through the days of darkness. While it can be difficult to find words of comfort, a simple presence at wakes and funerals speaks loudly by itself.

Our high school students are starting to hear back from colleges they are applying for. Chris got an acceptance letter from Dakota State University today. He joins Elijah (U of Kansas) and LaToya (Presentation College in Aberdeen) as they plan for their post St. Joseph future. Other seniors are still waiting to hear from schools of their choice – appropriate during this Advent season of patient and hopeful waiting with expectation.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells"
“Jingle bells, jingle bells”

I walked by the music room and heard the sound of three beginning clarinet players working hard to get the sounds of Jingle Bells in time with the teacher’s lead and in harmony with one another. They are preparing to play in the Christmas recital on December 19th. In encouraged them to keep practicing, and look forward to hearing how they do in two weeks’ time.

Our Human Resources Department organized our holiday tradition called “Sweet Sampling.” Staff brought a variety of colorful, scrumptious Christmas goodies to the skate room and folks dropped by throughout the day for treats at break times.  Recipes were left by each platter for people to try on their own for the items they especially enjoyed. I can tell that our push on wellness is also making inroads. The tables were also laden with fresh fruit as an alternative, and I saw recipes for Weight Watchers Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge and 50 – Calorie Chocolate Toffee Puffs. HR also passed out cute homemade cookie cutter ornaments to get people in the holiday mood.

Guest Blogger: Linea

My 6th grade class at work.

Hi!  I am Linea and I teach sixth, seventh and eighth grade reading at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  For the past nine weeks, we have been reading nonfiction stories, including biographies, autobiographies memoirs and historical nonfiction.

We are working on understanding the elements of tone, setting, characters and conflicts, and how they affect nonfiction.  We are also learning how to determine fact from opinion.   It is enlightening to see how nonfiction can grab their interest as well as fiction, and encouraging to see them relate different stories to their own experiences.

Our goal is to help the students comprehend information and make it a little bit fun at the same time!

Hopeful, patient waiting

Last night I met with Elijah and Shawn, two of our high school boys who were excited to be chosen to represent St. Joseph at an upcoming donor appreciation luncheon in Sarasota Florida come January. They were also a little worn out, since they are trying out for the Chamberlain Cubs basketball team, and just came home from practice. In fact, this week they’ve had two practices daily, one at 6 a.m. and one right after school.

I caught them in between supper and their Sons of Tradition meeting, where they meet with their Family Service Counselors to learn more about Lakota culture and take part in a talking circle to share issues that face them in their awkward adolescent years. The Daughters of Tradition group took part in an inipi – sweat lodge which I heard was well received.

Once the boys left for their session, I had time for conversation with Tim and Jessica, who started as houseparents in August. It is a big adjustment, and they work in two different homes for three days each. Another huge adjustment is raising a new baby – Lilya is now three months old. I’m around children all the time, but not that often lately with one so young. While the parents ate, I held the baby on my knee, and got along quite well. Every child deserves to be loved and nurtured, and that’s a main goal with all our students. Some need some extra care and attention, especially if they weren’t fortunate to have a stable and nurturing early childhood.

Our Pastoral Care group met today to finalize some details about Advent, which starts on Sunday. It seems odd when it doesn’t begin right after Thanksgiving. With many Christmas decorations already up, we still want to create an atmosphere of hopeful, patient waiting. We also looked ahead to our sacramental preparation. We expect to have about 25 students, a good number of whom are also preparing for baptism and confirmation.

Tonight was the last home game for our fifth and sixth grade girls basketball teams. Our opponents were from the Pierre Indian Learning Center. The fifth grade girls had the fast break going, and the game was never close, with a 31-12 final. Both Justina and Kendra scored in double figures. The sixth grade game was a low scoring defensive struggle. When the PILC Warriors tied the game at 11 with two minutes to go, some of us were thinking it might take an overtime or two before somebody scored again. But Mary got fouled on the drive and made both ends of a one and one free throw chance, and our Braves prevailed.

With girls ages 10 – 12, the improvement you see over a short time is remarkable. Looking back over the first few games, many weren’t sure where to stand or what to do with the ball once they got it. I noticed little things that start to make a difference – how to move without the ball, how to box out for a rebound. Our coaches’ patience and persistence is paying off. I hope our kids learn that lesson in all of life.

Guest Blogger: Robin

This month has been very busy here at St. Joseph’s!

With Thanksgiving just past, we have much to be thankful for. Our Lakota students are continually progressing in their studies and the weather (even the chilly parts) is not bad for this time of year. We are grateful for those friends who have come and gone from our lives, and for the multitude of blessings that our Creator has given us.

In the Special Education Department, we are assisting in the classrooms with those students who require our services and others who are working on the same concepts. This is going well, as the students get the individual or small group help they so need to be successful.

Another highlight is that the students are beginning to ask for help and taking on the responsibility of their own learning. As a teacher, this is what we hope for!

It is so fun to see the light spark and shine in their eyes! We have many people who are willing to take the extra time with our students.

The students now see this as a positive! It takes a while to earn trust, but when it happens, it is truly a blessing.

So count your blessings each and every day – no matter how small. They all add up to something great.

The students here at St. Joseph’s Indian School are a blessing to all of us working with them!

Did I remember to say how much I LOVE it here?!?!

Have a very blessed Christmas Season and a Merry and Happy New Year!!!!

Guest Blogger: Brock

An Experience of Many “Firsts”

Early last Friday, November 16, two of our middle school boys, Elliot (8th Grade) and Jay (7th Grade), along with Fr. Steve, Adria (Social Strategist), and myself, Brock (5th Grade teacher and chaperone for the boys) boarded a plane for Minneapolis/St. Paul where we would then board our connecting flight to New York City.

This was the start of many “firsts” for the boys, as they had never flown before.  Thankfully, we had smooth sailing, giving the boys a positive flying experience.

We landed as scheduled in New York City and the adventures began!  We were not able to get a taxi for all five of us so we split up and took separate taxis to the hotel.  This was also the boy’s first taxi ride.  The boys and I were in one and Fr. Steve and Adria were in the other.

We grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor (another first) outside our hotel!
We grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor (another first) outside our hotel!

After arriving at the hotel, we unloaded our luggage into one of our rooms on the 26th floor and headed out to see the city.  This was also the first time the boys had been so high up in a building.  We grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor (another first) outside our hotel and headed for the subway to Times Square.

From this point forward, the boys were able to experience numerous other “firsts” ranging from tasting new foods to seeing all of the sights of New York City throughout the remainder of the three days in New York.

After the subway ride to Times Square, Fr. Steve led us to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where we purchased our City Sights New York City bus tour tickets.

We proceeded with the Uptown Tour, seeing a variety of sights for much of the afternoon, including Time Square South, the Theatre District North, Columbus Circle/Time Warner Center, Lincoln Center, Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History/New York Historical Society, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church, the Apollo Theatre, Harlem, the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim & Jewish Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Central Park Zoo to name a few.

Elliot and Jay's first subway ride!
Elliot and Jay’s first subway ride!

We exited our bus to walk around Central Park for a few minutes and took several pictures.  We also were on parts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route throughout the tour, and saw preparations for the parade.  This made us more interested in watching the parade this year, having just recently been on part of it.

We then returned to the bus tour and started part of the Downtown Tour of New York.  We were able to see many more magnificent sights!

Some of them were The Empire State Building, Macy’s, the Flatiron District, Union Square, SoHo, China Town and the World Trade Center.

Quick stop in Central Park for several pictures!
Quick stop in Central Park for several pictures!

We exited the tour again at the World Trade Center stop and went to meet up with the rest of our group who had arrived a day earlier.  We settled into our rooms and met up for a wonderful Oriental supper not far from our hotel.

After supper, we went back to Times Square to take in more of the New York City experience.  We walked through St. Patrick Cathedral and walked by Rockefeller Center, taking a group shot in front of the still-being-decorated Christmas tree.

We continued our foot tour walking by Radio City Music Hall, eventually returning to Times Square.  We then boarded our City Sights tour bus for more as we drove by Madison Square Garden and saw the lit up Empire State Building on our way back to our hotel.  We exited the tour to return to our hotel rooms for some much-needed rest.

On Saturday morning, we embarked on a short tour of Battery Park seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from a distance. After pictures with Lady Liberty in the background, we continued to tour the Financial District, seeing the “Bull” on Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.

A quick group shot in front of the still-being-decorated Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center!
A quick group shot in front of the still-being-decorated Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center!

We returned to the hotel to freshen up for one of the main reasons for the trip: to meet with our donors and thank them for their generous contributions to St. Joseph’s Indian School!  The boys graciously took pictures with all the donors attending and, although admittedly nervous, gave their individual accounts of life at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  They both did a fine job and represented St. Joseph’s Indian School well.

After the donor appreciation luncheon, we ventured out again to see more of the city, getting the most out of our City Sights Tour tickets.  We boarded a bus in Battery Park and continued with the Downtown Tour seeing the skyline of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport and Pier 17 before heading by China Town, the Ladies Mile, the United Nations and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, to name a few.

We again departed the bus tour at Times Square and attended Mass at St. Malachy Roman Catholic Church before going to eat supper at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, home of the world-famous singing wait staff.   After supper, we continued to walk around Times Square taking numerous pictures to show friends back home.  A “short” subway ride back toward our hotel ended the day, retiring for the night to rest up for another day.

Elliot and Jay with Lady Liberty.
Elliot and Jay with Lady Liberty.

On Sunday, the second of our main reasons for being in New York took place.  We had another donor appreciation luncheon in Melville Long Island.  The boys again graciously took pictures with all the donors attending and were still admittedly nervous speaking in front of the group; but were able to represent St. Joseph’s Indian School in a positive manner as they answered questions from the audience about their experiences here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

With both donor appreciation lunches completed, we had one more night to explore the Big Apple.  We did some shopping in the SoHo area before heading one last time to Times Square where we ate at John’s Pizzeria. After supper, we took in more of the sights and sounds Times Square had to offer before entering the subway to venture back toward our hotel.  After a couple “extra” subway rides, we were back to our hotel to pack for our return flight to South Dakota to see our family and friends waiting for us back at home.

Everyone loved John’s Pizzeria!
Everyone loved John’s Pizzeria!

Although it was an awesome experience of many “firsts” for several involved, no one hesitated to state that they would be interested in making many other “firsts” and a few “seconds” experiences in the future.

Homemade birthday cards and dancing at St. Joseph’s

Health Update – I got back last night from a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I’ve been feeling great, yet still need to check in with the oncologists every six months to make sure the sarcoma doesn’t rear its ugly head again. Recurrence is a problem with soft tissue cancer. All the scans went well, with no signs of problems, thanks be to God. I’m so appreciated of people’s continued prayers and support!

One of our students asked me if I went to boarding school. The answer is yes, High School Seminary. When he followed up wondering if I ever got homesick, I could see the tears forming in his eyes. He had a nice Thanksgiving with his grandmother, and now that he’s back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, he’s missing her and his relatives so much. He knows St. Joseph’s is a good place for him to be, yet all of us on staff realize how emotionally hard it is to be away. I got homesick several times, even when I moved away for college. Imagine what must go through the mind and heart of a child as young as six! We try to be as supportive as we can, and if family can be reached, give the child a chance to call home and talk. But sometimes there are tears, calling forth a hug or pat on the back, and solidarity with the lonely sadness.

Happy birthday Carol!
Happy birthday Carol!

I joined the Fisher Home (6th– 8th grade boys) for supper. David and Gayle are two of our newest houseparents and are quickly learning the routine and developing relationships with the boys. Gayle likes to cook from scratch and put a great meal on the table that fed the hearty appetites of ten teenage boys. After supper, everyone pitched in to clean up the area of the home they had particular responsibility for. They rotate duties, since no one is particularly fond of washing pots or cleaning bathrooms. Students take good care of the place, although it helps to have houseparents check things over. Carol is a six day houseparent in Fisher and celebrates a birthday tomorrow. After the table was cleaned up, the guys got out paper and crayons and created a pile of cute homemade birthday cards to greet Carol with when she comes in tomorrow. It’s been a while since I got out the crayons, but I gave it my best effort as well.

I noticed the lights on in the Skating Room and stopped to find a group of 4th and 5th grade girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” performance. I asked the girls to demonstrate what they have of their routine so far. They started with some timidness and hesitancy, but once they got the beat down, started to lose themselves in the music and have fun. I look forward to seeing how they respond in front of the crowd a couple of weeks from now.

The girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” routine.
The girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” routine.

Fellowship, support and story telling

Over Thanksgiving break, we only have three students on campus in the break home. Everyone else has gone home for Thanksgiving weekend to be with family and relatives. Many parents and guardians came to campus to pick up their children, and stayed for lunch. By the official 2:00 dismissal time, many of our students had started the journey home, since some live as many as five hours away. We were thankful for the sunshine and good weather that allowed for trouble-free travels.

The SCJs from the area parishes gathered at the SCJ house on St. Joseph’s campus today for an early Thanksgiving meal. They will be spread out for masses tomorrow, and this was a relaxing time to spend in fellowship, support and story telling. The offices and homes will be closed until Sunday afternoon.

The value of giving back

Holiday breaks give me a good excuse to go to church on the nearby Indian Reservations. On Thanksgiving Day, I drove north to Fort Thompson, where a crowd of about 70 gathered to give thanks at mass. Afterwards Sr. Charles, who has worked in the parish and among the Dakota parishioners for over 30 years, cooked three turkeys so anyone in the community who might otherwise be alone, or have a hard time putting together a festive meal, could celebrate the holiday.

Friday was a very quiet day around campus and the office. I got a good start on a lot of the upcoming Christmas correspondence, and tied up loose ends from last week’s travels.

 I checked on the break home to see if they needed anything, but everything was going well. A few more high school students came back on Friday so they can take part in basketball practices, but otherwise things have been quiet. The small group went to St. James parish in downtown Chamberlain for their community Thanksgiving dinner, and stayed afterward to help clean up.

Our homes try to involved the students in service projects like that throughout the year, and teach them the value of giving back generously.

A school bus that will house a video educating visitors about the history of Indian Boarding Schools.
A school bus that will house a video educating visitors about the history of Indian Boarding Schools.

Today, I visited Split Rock Studios in St. Paul Minnesota. They are constructing the displays for our Historical Center. Many are nearing completion and hopefully installation will begin in January. I saw the construction of a school bus that will house a video educating visitors about the history of Indian Boarding Schools. A table made from one of our oldest cottonwood trees that was felled in the building project sat next to a replica tree whose leaves will be filled with alumni memories from their days at St. Joseph. Artifacts like old desks, wheel barrows and dance regalia will help tell the story as well.

What jumped out the most for me was to see photo cut outs of some of our Lakota students, and a few larger than life murals created from images I see around me each day. We hope to have a grand opening in late spring or early summer.

Guest Blogger: Joe

Last week in Religion class, the third graders watched a five minute video titled “A great day.” They are a great group of kids because they always come in with smiles on their faces and ready to learn.  At this age, the Lakota boys and girls are full of many questions which can be a good thing and sometimes very challenging.

On this particular day, I told the class that we were going to watch the video two times. The first time we would watch it straight through and see what stuck in their minds.  After this, we planned to watch the video again but we would stop it a couple of times to discuss what was happening.

I pushed play and the students’ eyes stared at the screen. I looked around and could see the wheels turning in their heads. These students were getting something out of this simple five minute video.  Once the video concluded, I asked the students what they thought was going on in the film.  One young boy raised his hand and simply said,

“Today is a gift!”

In my mind, this was the best answer that you could expect from watching the video.

As we watched the video a second time, I paused at the beginning to talk about “the gift.” (If you are not familiar with the video, the gift is that you get to live another day.) I told the students that God has a plan for us. God knows what we did five minutes ago and God knows what we are going to do five minutes from now.

“So God knows that I am going to pick my nose in a few minutes?” one boy asked.

After controlling my laughter I told him simply “yes.”

As the video went on, I paused it again to talk about things that the students could do to help make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. Things like using their eyes, their smile, a touch or their presence can be very powerful. I told the students that these four things, under their control, can change another person’s day.

After finishing the video, I asked the students what they thought of the video after watching it for the second time. A young girl then said,

“We are blessed!”

I asked her what that meant and she went on to tell the class that we are blessed to receive another day of life. I added that each student was blessed to have many things and that we should always be grateful.

In the last fifteen minutes of class I asked the students to write down what they are thankful for.  They were asked to write down as many blessing as they could.  As soon as I handed out the paper there wasn’t a single noise in the classroom. By the end of the class every student had filled out at least the whole front side of a piece of paper.

When the class period ended, I sat and thought about how everyone at St. Joseph’s is blessed and thankful for everything that happens here on campus.

So, I ask you to join us. Take out a page of paper and write down what you are thankful for.  Remember to write down as many things as you can think of.  Whenever you are having a bad day, look back at what you wrote down.  Then you can be as thankful as our third graders here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Happy Thanksgiving!