Christmas is still coming!

I heard tell of a Lakota tribal official visiting the Apache Tribe in Arizona. They teased him “in the mountains we’re much closer to the Great Spirit.”

He replied, “Yes, I understand, but on the vast South Dakota prairie we can see God coming for three days, and have time to get ready!”

Renovation of the William home is moving along.
Sheetrock is up in the William Home! The facilities crew is now working on outlets and ventilation.

While other folks are taking down their Christmas decorations, we’re still getting ready to celebrate when all our students return. Last weekend two school groups, one from Barrington, Illinois and one from Watertown, South Dakota brought out some wonderful clothes and toys they’ve been collecting. As the houseparents return, we’ll check sizes and wish lists to find good matches for our students’ needs.

While many of our child services staff have had vacation time, staff in the development office have been faithfully answering mail and phone requests. The facilities crew has used this quieter time for projects like touch-up paint jobs and preventative spraying for bed bugs, which are jobs best done when the homes are empty.

They’ve been moving full speed ahead on several projects. The Summerlee Home renovation is almost complete, and those fourth and fifth grade girls should be moving back in a couple of weeks. The William Home will take a few more months, but the dry wall is up and the crew is working on the behind the scenes (and walls) items like electrical outlets and ventilation.

Fewer students means fewer vehicle trips over break. The school bus was in the garage getting a check up to make sure it’s fit for ball games and school trips once the semester gets going next week.

St. Joseph’s bus is in the shop for a tune up.
St. Joseph’s bus gets a tune up before second semester begins.

We have had a half dozen high school students on campus this past week taking part in basketball practices. Today, the rest of the crew of 42 filtered in. Cars pulled up to one of our five high school homes and kids carried suitcases or slung plastic bags full of clothes over their shoulder and started getting ready for second semester.

I spent a little time at each of the homes, welcoming students back. I always hope for happy news. Many of the students had good memories of their time with family, but a few had family struggles and drama over the break. Our houseparents and counselors will help them talk it out and process the disappointments and hurts, and hopefully get them off to a good start here.

Guest Blogger: Julie

Christ Tunpi – Merry Christmas!
Christ Tunpi – Merry Christmas!
Greetings friends!!

My name is Julie and I am a Family Service Counselor here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I hope this wonderful time of year finds you all doing well! Things here at St. Joseph’s Indian School have been very busy over the last few days! The students are getting ready to head home for Christmas break. The weather looks good for their travel, which is truly a blessing.

This past weekend was the annual “Christmas Store.” This is a time when students can pick out gifts for their family members. The items available for gifts come from your generous donations; the students really enjoy being able to pick out gifts for their families! The students also get a chance to see Santa Clause and have their gifts wrapped. It is a fun-filled day that both students and staff enjoy!

Other things that have been happening at St. Joseph’s Indian School include the conclusion of the girls’ basketball season, the students’ Christmas program and a new ceremony called the “Tears Ceremony.” The Tears Ceremony is held at St. Joseph’s when a student loses a loved one. This is a time for the students to remember their loved one and be supported by friends and staff.

Our first Tears Ceremony was held this week and was a beautiful tribute to the students’ loved one. Still in its beginning stages, the Tears Ceremony gives the students one more way to remember and grieve the loved one they have lost. The student who has lost the loved one is an integral part of the planning process for the ceremony. We hope that the Tears Ceremony will assist the students with the grief process and let them know they are supported and cared for while they traverse the grief process.

Houseparents help students choose gifts for their families.
Houseparents help students choose gifts for their families.

At this time of year, I always think of the generosity of our benefactors. St. Joseph’s Indian School offers so many great things to our students… but without your kindness and generosity, we would be unable to do the great things we do. So at this time I say Thank You for all you do for St. Joseph’s Indian School. May you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas and New Year!

Julie

Guest Blogger: Pam S

Healthy eating at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Healthy eating at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

In Personal Living Skills class, our Lakota students have been learning about nutrition and food labels. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students are discussing how people who lead very busy lives may not always eat a balanced diet.

Students are then examining their own eating habits and identifying situations in which they did not eat as well as they should have. They are learning that the choices they make now, affect their health and quality of life in the future.

We live in a super-sized world!

Our perception of an appropriate serving of food is distorted.  How much we eat threatens our health.  Students are learning to choose foods within the food pyramid guidelines and learning the appropriate serving sizes in food.  They are learning how to read food labels so that they are more conscious of what foods to choose and the nutritional value in those foods.

Family activity night

Tonight, the Family Service Counselors organized Family Activity Night in preparation for next week’s Thanksgiving break. We will have a few students staying in a break home those days, but the majority of children will return home to celebrate with family for a few days.

The dining hall was filled with students and houseparents, 33 tables in all. Instead of being grouped by grades as they do at lunch, or the home groups that the students are in for supper, tonight the tables were grouped by siblings and cousins. Each group worked on cards and posters to take home to family to brighten their holiday. Through generous donations, we were also able to include some gift cards to grocery stores close to where the families live, especially since we know a lot of the folks can use the help with many mouths to feed.

We had some Christmas ornaments, gold colored with the St. Joseph’s logo. Each child carefully penned their name so their relatives could proudly hang it on their Christmas tree when the time comes. After a shared meal, we got out the bingo cards. You would have thought those who won a bottle of Gatorade or one of the movie tickets had won a huge jackpot. All in good fun.

Goodness and generosity every day

Last night Mark at the Rec Center tried a new activity with the fourth and fifth grade boys – water polo!

He used the deep end of the pool and played side to side to shorten the field. The boys learned the basics and enjoyed it, but had to keep asking for subs to come in because they found treading water the whole time and trying to get their arms out of the water for a good shot to be very tiring. I’m sure the houseparents who had to make sure they went to bed at the end of the evening didn’t mind at all. We like to have our Lakota students try new activities; you never know what might catch their passion and interest.

Saturday I was in the office working on weekend liturgy when a call came in from Raphael Home (1st – 3rd grade boys) that a gentleman was looking for someone to donate a picture to. Turns out a hunter from Wisconsin had a beautiful limited edition print of a painting of a white buffalo calf, which has great meaning and sacredness in Lakota culture.  He wanted to know if we had a good home for it. I gratefully accepted the gift, and I showed the boys the image. They liked it so much we decided to let the print make its home in Raphael. People surprise us with their goodness and generosity every day.

Usually when I’m at the Rec Center I see activities for students around the same grade and age. This afternoon as I approached the building I found students from all grades and corners of St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus streaming in. Andy had just announced over the intercom that the prize money for the Halloween costume contest was available to the winners, and they made a beeline for the treasure. It was just a few dollars, but that meant extra treats at the snack bar, or a few bucks to put into their account for later use.

Several homes used today for day trips, while others shot baskets in the gym, tossed footballs around outside, or watched a favorite movie.

Guest Blogger: Claire

Ahhhh, Halloween.  It is a great day to flirt with the things that scare us the most, and poke a little fun at the dark side of life.  In other words, it’s just another typical day in St. Joseph’s High School Program.

I kicked off my Halloween season with parent teacher conferences at Chamberlain High School last Thursday.  I really did not need to be afraid.   I sat at a table marked “Giles Home” with a printout of my 10 students.   One by one, the CHS teachers came by to talk about students’ progress in their classes.  We keep close track of missing assignments and grades, so there weren’t any surprises.  I heard the usual feedback that students do well on daily work but struggle on tests.  The individual remarks were very heartening though.

“He’s a great kid.”

“He seems very interested in the subject.”

“He contributes a lot to discussions.”

“He has terrific penmanship.”

The Giles Home climbing Harney Peak.
The Giles Home climbing Harney Peak.

The following day, the Giles Home departed on a long weekend home trip to Rapid City.  We started out by climbing Harney Peak, the highest point in the Black Hills.  In the snow.  Who’s afraid of a 6 hour hike in the snow, right?  Who’s afraid of not keeping up with 10 guys with boundless energy and the skill of mountain goats?  Who’s afraid of not making it back down before dark and having to use an iPhone for a flashlight?

Nay!

What we had to be afraid of was getting in their way at the chow line at Golden Corral afterwards.

The next day, we took them to Flags and Wheels, where they got to play go-karts, laser tag and bumper cars.  This would not be scary, except that houseparents Melissa, Aaron and I are veterans of the high school summer program.  We know that these guys are going to be in driver’s ed next year.   They demonstrated some serious demolition skills with those bumper cars.  Ruthless, I tell you!

Who thinks these boys are ready for drivers ed?!
Who thinks these boys are ready for drivers ed?!

And of course we had to go to a haunted house at the Rapid City fairgrounds.  Caden (Aaron and Melissa’s 8 year old son) set the tone by hugging the big scary monster that greeted us in the parking lot.

Aww, shucks, how scary could the Terror in the Dark house be?  Despite this rather benign first impression, two guys didn’t even make it past the second room before surrendering, “I’m out!!”  The rest of the rooms were a blur of blood-curdling shrieks, menacing monsters and guys clinging to each other for dear life.  I was NOT the only one screaming like a girl.  Yes, some days it is good to be terrorized by things that can’t actually hurt you.  Especially if you have good friends nearby to grab onto, and four reliable houseparents to make sure you get home safely.

Honestly, there are things that scare me a lot more than icy mountains, funhouse cars and latex monster masks.  Failing at things, for example.  I hate failing at things.  I go to insane lengths to make sure that projects and plans go off without a hitch.  So why am I so twitchy about Halloween this year?  Because I have handed the reins over to the high schoolers.

This is the first year of doing a high school Student Leaders Group.  As part of our mission to prepare the students for life after high school, we are turning over some tasks and responsibilities to the students themselves.  We have formed a leadership group with delegates from each of the homes.  I act as an advisor, but I’m not actually “in charge” of anything.  Right now, they are trying to pull off a Halloween party.

Leadership Group has had a rocky start.  The first activity they planned was a dodgeball game.  It did not happen.

The second task they chose was to write a persuasive letter to the HS director in order to change a rule that they didn’t like.  That took some coaching on my part.

“No, saying ‘the rule is stupid’ is not sufficient.”

One of the delegates turned in a thoughtful, clear and rational reason that the rule could be changed. Oh yeah!

No one else finished theirs though. Augh!

The last activity they planned, the Red Ribbon Relay Race (say that 10x fast!) was beset with commitment issues.  The leaders who came through worked very hard but ran into unforeseeable difficulties.  Can anyone really divide a bunch of half-frozen kids into small groups and convince them to run around in a circle?  Note to self: get a bigger megaphone.

It is the day of Halloween and we are still working on a plan for the party.  This is where that fear of failure raises its ugly head.  I have to resist the urge to take over and tell people what to do, or worse, do it myself.  Because the point of all of this is not to have an event go perfectly.  The purpose is for the students to make a plan, make adjustments, make concessions, make mistakes, make corrections and make the best of it.  My purpose is not to decide for them what is possible.  The purpose is for them to figure out what they are capable of doing.

We ended our planning session on a positive note.  Each delegate has a list of things s/he is responsible for.  They have a best-case plan and a back up plan in case that doesn’t work out.  A lot of this means them asking for what they want, and deciding what to do if they can’t have it. They have done an impressive job foreseeing obstacles and brainstorming solutions.

This means that they are moving away from accepting “No, that can’t be done,” and moving towards finding ways that it can be done.  Anyone who works with teens knows that this can be scary and exhilarating.

What if the kids start thinking for themselves and *gasp* start asking questions?  What kind of a monster have we awakened?!  Hopefully, some sort of quasi-adult, thoughtful monster.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Claire, High School Houseparent

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

October 8 is Native American Day

At St. Joseph’s, teachers work to incorporate Lakota (Sioux) culture into their lesson plans for the day. Outside of St. Joseph’s Indian School,the state of South Dakota has put out standards for cultural teaching.

  • In Sandi’s math class, students wrote and solved number sentences using the Lakota language instead of digits.
  • In Steve’s fourth grade class, students read “A Little Boy and Girl in the Clouds” and “Star Boy” by Paul Goble.
  • Fifth grade students learned about Winter Counts and constructed their own.
  • Sarah’s eighth-grade students read The Lakota Way: Stories & Lessons for Living by Joseph Marshall III.
  • In computer class, Gina worked with students to find a map of South Dakota reservations and discuss where each reservation is and which ones they are from.
  • Using Sherman Alexie’s essay, “The Joys of Reading and Writing, Superman and Me,” students in Craig’s class worked on identifying important values, philosophy, and beliefs in writing by Native Americans.
  • In Linea’s reading class, students listened to The Eagle – empathizing Compasion (wah-un-shee-lah-pee) – to care to sympathize and The Story of No Moccasins – empathizing Humility (un-shee-ee-cee-hay-pee) – to be humble, modest, unpretentious.
  • Third grade students watched a Native American storyteller share the story of why rabbit is the way he is.  After sharing and discussing the story, students made an animal poster labeling each part along with the Lakota word.
  • First grade students read “The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush” by Tomie dePaola.  The students created a Native American boy or girl and placed shapes in a pattern on the chest to represent the traditional beadwork and patterns on the leather.

Guest Blogger: Robin

Hi, my name is Robin and I am the Special Education Department Chair here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I have a Bachelor of Science in Education/Special Education and a Master’s in Reading and Literature. I just have to say that I really LOVE it here at St. Joseph’s Indian School! There is so much to do and to volunteer for.

My story is a continuation. I started here in 2002 and was only able to stay for two years. During one of those two years I was the Director of Special Education. I had the awesome opportunity to mentor a beautiful young lady, who is now at her home in Lower Brule.

I also had the opportunity to tutor in the high school homes three times per week. One of the students I tutored back then has gone on to graduate with honors, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. I am so proud of Savannah!

My day job was Special Education for those students needing a little more help to be successful. Not only did I schedule meetings, plan lessons and file reports, I was able to teach some remarkable young people. I had small groups of students in grades 1-4. The stories of some of our students are heart wrenching to say the least. I am just glad the Lord put me here to work with them and pray for them. They have blessed me in immeasurable ways.

I then had to go to Georgia to help take care of my elderly in-laws. We were gone for seven years. My in-laws passed away and we stayed a few more years because of the economy.

But, my heart was always here at St. Joseph’s.

I decided not to renew my contract with the school system I was at and began calling St. Joseph’s to see if there were any positions available.  Then came that wonderful September morning I got a call from Melissa in Human Resources asking me to come for an interview. OF COURSE I JUMPED ON THE OFFER!

So, the last week in September 2011, I was back at St. Joseph’s interviewing for Special Education Teacher. I was so excited, I was in tears!

Well, they accepted me back here and I was elated. They asked when I could start and without thinking I said any time! They told me to think about it and get things settled there in Georgia!

So I thought about it… My grandson was to be born October 13, 2011 and my granddaughter was turning 5 on October 13 as well. I stayed for Dakota’s party and left the following morning, leaving behind my son and my husband to “finish up” down there.

I also left my daughter and two of my five granddaughters there in Georgia.  Before that, we were inseparable!

I drove all by myself (I’ve NEVER done that before) all across this country to get to Iowa to see my grandson and then on to South Dakota to come to St. Joseph’s. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my family – but I was going “home” to St. Joe’s!

You may be wondering why I am telling this story. I want you all to know what a wonderful, caring, and dedicated staff there is here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The students are awesome as well! They are people you will never forget. The school is always evolving. In the following picture are the Tiny Tot jingle dress dancers. One of the girls is my granddaughter, Dakota (blue dress with bows). Another is a houseparent’s daughter, the little one and the one with her back to the camera is from a neighboring reservation, and one is the daughter of a St. Joseph’s teacher.

St. Joe’s takes the term Tiyospayeextended family full circle. Not only do we serve the students and their families, we remember to serve our own families as well.

As in many jobs, we dedicate much of our time and energy to our work and forget family is just as important. Here at St. Joseph’s, our “work family” is important, but our own families are as well. The students here love to meet our families and play with them at various activities.

The Special Education program is unique here at St. Joseph’s.

We follow all Federal guidelines when testing and supporting our students. We try to keep the students in the classroom and modify or accommodate as needed there.

Our program is more the resource type, as we have limited staff in this area. Our Family Service Counselors help us with behaviors and other concerns that the special education teachers deal with daily in public schools. Although I do have a lot of paper work, I also get to work with my team and with many students individually or in small groups. As I said, we are unique. We have a lot of support people here who help with groups, interventions and any other requests to help a student be successful.

Why do I love it here? Well, the beginning of the school year is amazing. When the students see that you are here again for another year, and you have not left them, they are so thrilled and excited to see you!

I am fortunate to be able to work in the homes as a substitute as well. This is where you see the awesomeness of our structure. The kids begin to feel as though you really want to help them succeed. They are responsible for doing their charges (chores). This includes doing their laundry, keeping their rooms clean, helping clean the home and helping with the meals and snacks.

They go on family trips and outings, do things in town, do things for others in the community and around school. The students take their “jobs’’ very seriously and are proud of what they know how to do. As a mentor I get to do activities with my mentee, whether it is on campus or in town. We learn about each other and get to teach each other things we didn’t know how to do. It is always great when she sees me and gives me a hug!

Did I tell y’all how much I love St. Joe’s????

Guest Blogger: Clare

My name is Clare. I am the new Co-Director of Pastoral Care for St. Joseph Indian School, and this is my first blog. My career has included being a freelance graphic and editorial consultant, pastoral ministry in parish settings, campus ministry in a high school setting, teaching theology to youth and adults, and work as a designer, educator, artist and writer in the healthcare setting. I am delighted to be able to focus these coming years of my career with the students and staff in this very remarkable place.

In just six short weeks, I have already experienced many blessings. I’d like to tell you about an experience with one of our younger students. When he came into the room for the last class of the day, my little third-grade friend had racked up a full day of consequences for misbehavior.  Shortly into the lesson, my teaching partner, Joe, and I gave him one strike in our “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” method of keeping order. (Out means you head to the office.)

Joe and I team-taught during the first two weeks, getting to know our 160 children in grades one through eight. We had a lesson planned where, as we tossed a ball of yarn from child to child to create a spider web, they learned the meaning of their names (I explained to the students that whoever had given them their first name, made that choice for his or her own reasons. I explained that the meaning I was going to provide them had to do with the basic origin of the name/word itself. Some names are from places, others from things in nature and others have to do with qualities). Once we got around the room, we unwound the web and recalled as much as we could. We had done this with other sections, including the other third grade, but our little friend was making it look impossible for this group. In short order he received strike two.

I looked at the eager little faces wanting to know the meaning of their names. Joe and I decided to risk it, modifying the web so that each time the yarn would be tossed back to him in order to maintain a little more control. About three tosses into the game, I realized that Joe was actually becoming entangled and wouldn’t be able to help with the fidgety little two-strike child at my side. That is when I looked down and saw his name means “strong and intelligent.”

“I know what your name means, and if you sit still, pretty soon you will, too,” I said, hoping to buy time.

“It’s a girly name,”

he said, for the first time losing the bravado he’d been hiding behind all day. Beneath his tough-guy facade, I could see the little bullied boy who wanted to be valued, and I felt the spirit of mercy.

“You know what?” I said. “I can tell by the meaning of your name that Joe is going to really need you in few minutes, but that means you are going to have to be last so that you can help him.”

His eyes got big, and he waited through 24 tosses of the yarn until it landed in his lap and I told him his name meant “strong and intelligent” and that Joe was going to need him to walk around the web and help untangle it.

“I know you can do this,” I told him, “because you are strong and intelligent.”

When the bell rang, the lesson was accomplished. More than that, a little mercy was just the right medicine for a child whose spirit needs much more healing.

God of mercy, send Your spirit into our hearts. Awaken in us the wonder of what mercy can do when we extend it to each other. Amen.

Guest Bloggers: Rec Center Staff

Two St. Joseph's Indian School girls wait for their soccer game to start.
Tashia and Hialle wait patiently for the soccer game to start!

Every Wednesday, St. Joseph’s has Enrichment Night.

Last week, the Afra & Ambrose Homes were involved in our own little soccer camp!

First, we noticed the kids had a lot of extra energy, so we had them run some laps around the football field. That worked for a few moments. Soccer drills were taught by Mark S. and then we had a little soccer game. Thanks to Mike L. & Dave A. for their support.

With our older students, the Mathias and Rooney Homes participate in Camping 101 class. The Mathias Home had very little trouble in getting their tent together as they all worked as a team. The Rooney Home had some problems though. One of their poles got broken which made it tough to get up quickly. Thanks Mark for getting a new pole. Jan was the tent holder for most of the class. Thanks Jan.

Next week, we have the Cyr and Summerlee Homes at 6:00pm for our last Camping 101 class. The Fisher and Speyer Homes will fill the 7:15pm time slot with flag football.

Mark and Andy