Belly slides and Christmas gifts

Native American youth sledding down a hill.
Sledding in full force at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The past few days our Lakota students have been out sledding in force, but today the sun came out and began melting our snowfall into the dry and thirsty ground. They’ll have to wait until the next storm before the hills again allow for good sledding. But that didn’t deter kids from having fun at recess.

Today’s winter coats are warm indeed, but the plastic outer material is slick enough to make sleds optional. I watched the children belly slide head first down the gentle slopes leading to the playground, laughing all the way! I’m sure the teachers don’t mind the students burning off a little excess energy before coming back to the classroom to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.

I had to pick up a package a friend sent for Christmas, so I wandered over to Central Receiving, where all the boxes that come to St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus wind up. Glenda and Cathy have worked as a team for many years. This time of year gets a little hectic for them, but they seemed in good cheer as they opened and sorted piles of clothes, toiletries, toys and games, books and school supplies and knick-knacks  of all kinds.

Central Receiving at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Glenda and Cathy sorting piles of clothes, toiletries, toys and games, books and school supplies, and knick-knacks of all kinds.

Some of the boxes are from people who are taking part in our Holiday Wishes Christmas program. Those presents will be distributed after Christmas break when the students return in January. Items like hair conditioner, socks and basketballs are always in demand, and go onto the shelves so our houseparents have easy access to them. We have several requests for help with Christmas presents for needy children on nearby Indian reservations and are putting aside hats and gloves, stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons to brighten their holiday.

Glenda and Cathy have also put aside a lot of nice things for our Christmas store on Saturday. There, our children shop for presents to take home to their families. I saw a stack of five crock pots sent in by one generous donor who specified they go reservation families. Baby and toddler clothes are also very popular as kids think about younger brothers and sisters back home. We are blessed with many generous donations that we in turn can share so they are put to good use.

Guest Blogger: Cindy

Hello and welcome back!  I’m Cindy and I blogged in October about the many things that take place at the beginning of the school year.  I like to think that it is the busiest time of the year but it has not slowed down at all!

We are just returning from Thanksgiving Break (where did the time go?) and the students are starting to look forward to Christmas (and break: hooray!) that will be coming up in a few weeks.

Most of our students were able to go home for the Thanksgiving Break.  The day before Thanksgiving is a chaotic, but fun-filled day.  The student’s guardians all come and pick them up at the school.  The Dining Hall puts on a delicious lunch for them to enjoy.  Many of them have been coming to St Joseph’s for many years and it is fun to catch up on their lives.

We do have a few students that stay on campus during this time.  They are housed in what we refer to as the “break home.”  Their time is filled with fun activities such as shopping, movies and games.

This year, the students and staff who stayed on campus were able to participate in the Thanksgiving dinner at St. James Catholic Church.  This is a wonderful experience to have fellowship and visit with people from the surrounding areas.  It is wonderful that the local people put this on in order to alleviate the loneliness that can be associated with this time of year.

I enjoy this time of year.  As my family is grown, I still enjoy going to sports activities. The connection to my St. Joseph’s family is great as I now watch the St. Joseph’s girls play basketball.  They are a lot of fun and I love to watch them play.  This allows me to interact with the students outside of the school setting.  I really enjoy visiting with the students the next day at school on their accomplishments during the game.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!

As we are preparing for the Christmas Season, two of our 6/7/8th grade girls homes will be featured in the local Parade of Homes this year.  This is a local event when people decorate their homes and allow the community members to tour them.  This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to connect  with the town of Chamberlain.   The girls are giddy as they are enjoying decorating and getting ready for the tours.  It is the first time that the homes have participated in the “Parade of Homes” showing off their home, their Christmas  decorations, and spirit of the season.

We are also busy educating the students about Christmas during religion and Native American Studies classes.  We celebrate the advent season in the school by having a ceremony every Monday morning.  We try to get the students to realize that there is more to Christmas than just the presents under the tree.

I want to extend Christmas wishes to all our benefactors this Holiday Season.  May your days be very joyful, fun-filled and blessed.  Thank you for all the support you have given to St. Joseph’s throughout the years. 

“Celebrate the feast of Christmas every day, even every moment in the interior temple of your spirit, remaining like a baby in the boson of the heavenly Father, where you will be reborn each moment in the Divine Word, Jesus Christ”—St. Paul of the Cross


A daily routine with our high school girls

At some point during break, I found myself sitting on my couch thinking,

“It’s quiet around here. [Eyes shift about suspiciously].  Too quiet. [Pause.]  What are the kids up to?”

I’ve come to appreciate the rhythms of the daily routines with the kids, so although I enjoy my time off, I still look forward to starting up again after break.  It feels good to be back in the happy chaos of the high school homes as we all get settled back in.

We had so much fun singing, baking and laughing!
We had so much fun singing, baking and laughing!

We left off last year baking cookies and making ornaments with girls from the younger homes.  This involved Christmas carols, flour and frosting on the floor, and twiddly bits of glitter and goo gobs in the rug.  These are hallmarks of a really good day: singing and a medium-sized mess.

This was a departure from our usual after school routine, which is a jumble of snacks, charges, appointments and updates on the new topics at Chamberlain High School.

“I got all my assignments in!”  (Yeah! Good job!)

“What’s for dinner?  Can I go to McDonald’s?” (Chili, and no you may not.)

“Can I go to Central [Receiving]?  I need some black pants for work!”  (Yes, and sign yourself out.)

“I need to go to early school tomorrow to do my speech.” (Please e-mail Miles for a ride at 7:30.)

“I need $2 for class dues and 3 dozen cupcakes for tomorrow.”  (What  huh?)

All of this is accompanied by the pop/hip hop soundtrack of someone’s laptop playing full blast and the constant clicking of cell phone keys texting.

Morning routines are not quite so lively. They are more like a cheesy suspense novel. Everything starts off predictably slow, with sleepy-eyed prayers and bits of toast.  Then comes the rising action—the clock is ticking and our heroine is in a race against time to complete her mission before the bus arrives.  Will she get her charge done?  Will that bathroom sink pass inspection or will she have to go for a do-over?  The bus is out front with the lights flashing, as we bite our nails (and tongues, because nagging is just NOT going to save the day).  Will she find that Math book?   WILL HER HAIR LOOK OK??  Tune in and find out.

Singing and a medium sized mess!
Singing and a medium sized mess!

The best part of the day is still the short window of time between curfew and bedtime. Theoretically, we are winding down for the day.  We’ll have snacks and Sleepy Tea.  Prayers are one part of the day when we can usually have all the girls together for a few quiet cell-phone free minutes.  The girls usually have friends and family members that they want to pray for.  Sometimes they pray for better grades or snow days.  We have lists of intentions from benefactors that get added in as well.  It may sound a bit corny, but I really enjoy prayer time.  It’s a privilege to be able to talk about spirituality openly with the kids, and it makes for a positive end to our day.  Well, sort of.   Once bedtime actually arrives, we are back into chaos with everyone remembering “one last thing” that has to be done right now.  The next five minutes will be like herding frogs.

I find myself smiling when I remember these things.  I can’t wait to get caught up on all the news with the girls.  Best of all, today is present-wrapping day for the high school program.  This involves Christmas carols, pizza, tons of wrapping paper and tape. In other words: singing and a medium size mess.  We’re off to a great start!

Until next time,


Santa’s Workshop at St. Joseph’s Indian School

The kids had so much fun at their Christmas concert!
The kids had so much fun at their Christmas concert!

For grades 1 – 8, the first semester is in the books.  Our staff still has a couple of days of in-service, but classes wrapped up today and the students are now on Christmas break. The high school students still have another week of classes.

Today’s student Christmas program was a big hit. Most of the performances were done in larger groups, but three of our students had enough confidence and stage presence to serve as Masters of Ceremony. I was also delighted to see a few students brave enough to sing a duet. Sixth graders Caden and James did a rap song about Christmas that had the chapel rocking. We had an appearance by Santa and a teacher led Elvis rendition of “I’ll have a Blue Christmas Without You”.  The families who were able to come for the show, were all invited to lunch at the school cafeteria before hitting the road.

Santa’s Workshop at St. Joseph’s Indian School looked great!
Here’s just a glimpse of Santa’s Workshop at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

I faced one of the tougher challenges of my job when I was on a three panel team to judge the decoration competition in the basement of the Benedict Building between Human Resources and Facilities. They worked frantically this week to transform the offices into a winter wonderland. HR made their section of office look like a Ginger Bread house, complete with gum drops on the wrapping paper walls. Problem was we spied a  few 1st graders on their way home from school plucking them from the wall to have a snack! HR’s was more beautiful and appealing to the eye, but Facilities brought in a secret weapon – students dressed up as elves pretending to use the tools to make toys at a table labeled “Santa’s Workshop”.

With no collusion at all, when we added up the points for originality, arrangement, theme and overall presentation, we ended up with a real honest to goodness tie. But everyone who walked the halls had a smile on their face and felt like a winner.

‘Tis the Season

Hello again from April and the Carola Home!

It’s holiday time in the Carola Home. The boys have returned from eating turkey, dressing and other favorites with their families and now they are excitedly waiting to go home for the Christmas break. This weekend the homes are starting to decorate, putting up the trees, lights and ornaments. Although the homes have their Christmas dinner and party in January, we still discuss family traditions and holiday activities. One of our favorite things to do is look around town at the lights and decorations. Our homes tradition is to say, “Ooooh, aaaah” at the homes that are decorated.

What are some of your favorite traditions?

A picture one of my boys took.
A picture one of my boys took.

This can be a hard time of the year for our American Indian youth to be apart from their families and focus on school. Our boys are doing amazingly well. Keeping their missing assignments low and their grades up. Preparing for the end of the semester, finishing up projects and studying for final exams. It is very good to keep them busy to help the time fly by.

Winter activities help with this. A few of the boys went to the elementary Christmas concert and one of them showed his talent by taking pictures. One of our boys is a referee for the girls inter-city basketball program. Six of our boys are on the CHS basketball team and eight boys are in the St. Joseph’s high school bowling league. Also, two of our boys were chosen to go to Rapid City, South Dakota for an alumni gathering. They will be able to see friends who have graduated and be encouraged of their stories of success.

Of course, with all these activities and keeping up with their school work they have very little down time. So on the weekends when there are no scheduled events, they make the most of their free time. Watching a favorite sports game on tv, playing videos game or going to the movies at the local theatre.

It is a very exciting time of the year and there is much more to look forward to after the holidays. With our Christmas party, trip home and more.