New & Innovative, but also Tried & True

Hi everyone! My name is Robin and I am the Department Chair for Special Education at St. Joseph’s. I am also the instructor for Fast

Robin, St. Joseph’s Special Ed Teacher

ForWord. I just want to say first and for most I LOVE it here at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

There are so many wonderful opportunities for our students as well as staff. We care for the WHOLE CHILD – mind, body, heart and spirit! I believe that’s really important. We try to give our students the best education possible by introducing new and exciting programs, but also incorporating “tried and true” techniques. Sometimes it feels as though there is not enough time in the day to accomplish all that we would like, but we do our best!

Along with new and exciting ways of learning, there are always tried and true methods used in the classrooms.
Along with new and exciting ways of learning, there are always tried and true methods used in the classrooms.

One of the things I do is work with the Fast ForWord program. This program works with the cognitive mind by teaching and re-teaching the brain how to think, find information, retain information and recall it. To the students, it’s a computer game. I currently have eight students working with this program. We are looking at a few more students to see if they would benefit as well.

They love it! The boys and girls are motivated and look forward to coming each day. We start earlier than normal Friday mornings (7:30 am) as Fridays are busier than other days. Despite the early hour, they are here right on time!

I have two who have “leveled up” already this semester, after just two and a half weeks – I am

St. Joseph’s is fully accredited and meets all the standards of the State of South Dakota.
St. Joseph’s gives the Lakota children opportunities to learn in different ways.

so proud! There are a couple of other students who are so, so close. Keep your fingers crossed for them!

I am so proud of this group, as I am of all the students of St. Joseph’s Indian School!

Have said lately how much I LOVE it here? Thank you for your support!


An update from St. Joseph’s Facilities Crew

Summer break at St. Joseph’s Indian School is half over, which means St. Joseph’s Facilities Crew is full speed ahead! The facilities crew schedules most of their larger projects during the summer months, when most of the Lakota children are home with their families.  Here are a few of the projects we are working on:

Cement work was done to solve drainage issues on St. Joseph’s campus.
St. Joseph’s Health Center was one of the key areas with drainage issues to be repaired this summer.

ü  Phase II Drainage Project – Those of you who read the blog on a regular basis may remember that Phase I was completed last summer.  There are three key areas on campus where new concrete will be laid to help with some of the drainage issues we have – around the Health Care Center, the school building, and Central Offices.  The work began in mid-June and will be completed by the first part of August.

As we come to the home stretch of the Alumni and Historical Center addition to the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, the grounds crew has begun landscaping around the building.

ü  They have added some planters with flowers and some large river rocks as an accent to the base of the Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing.  They continue to smooth out areas that were torn apart due to construction and will begin planting grass and more landscaping designs.

If you happen to be on campus, you may notice things are a little dusty around Central Offices!

ü  We are doing some tuck-pointing on the building.  This requires the seams in the brick to be ground out where there is cracking and then refilled with new mortar.  Due to the dust floating in that area I think we should of offered a car wash service for our employees! J

The facilities crew has also started the last phasing of St. Joseph’s home renovations.

ü  The Afra (first through third grade girls) and Raphael (first through third grade boys) Homes are the last to be worked on.  These two homes are located in the Benedictine Building. Demolition work began at the end of the school year. The facilities staff has met with the home coordinators and the plans have been set in place for the home.

Some of you may also remember the school getting new carpet last summer.  Again this year we have carpet projects taking place!

The Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing at the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center is nearly complete.
Large river rock was placed around the outside of the Medicine Wheel Garden of Healing.

ü  Tipi Press Printing and Central Offices received new carpet this summer.  Both buildings are already completed, and the projects took approximately two weeks.

Another major project the crew has been working on is the renovation of our old thrift store building.

ü  This building is now our Personal Care Center! The crew did some basic cosmetic work on the interior and now the building is ready to house some additional office space for St. Joseph’s Indian School. A ribbon cutting with the Chamberlain/Oacoma Area Chamber of Commerce will be held at the end of July.

Pilamayathank you – for helping us take care of our campus so we can provide the Lakota boys and girls a safe place to live and learn!

Mom, but not in a conventional way

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

I am not exactly sure what it means to be “mom.”

It is true that as a high school houseparent at St. Joseph’s Indian School, I do a lot of mom-like things.  I see the kids first thing when they get up, and I hear their prayers before they go to bed at night.  I know who won’t eat onions and who shouldn’t eat beans.  I cajole, correct, encourage, exhort, commend and sometimes nag.  I say stupid things like, “If your friends all jumped off a cliff…”  I sing the birthday song off key and with enthusiasm.  But I’m certainly not mom.  Not in a conventional way, anyway.

These precious Lakota children are entrusted to me by their families, and that is a big responsibility.

I find it impossible not to claim these kids, though.  When I’m sitting in the stands watching a basketball game, or the Fall play, or the Spring concert, I turn to the parent next to me and say, “Oh, which one is yours?  That one is mine!”   And if the kids at St. Joseph’s ever pulled shenanigans in public (which they never do of course) then I’d be there, saying, “Um, yeah.  That one is mine.”

And when it comes time to sit up all night with a child who has the flu and is crying for her real mom, well, she’s still mine.    Or when real mom dies and he doesn’t wear a jacket to the funeral, and I see he’s dancing around in the cold, then I worry and fuss.  Because he’s mine.   Or if she becomes a mom herself and wonders if I’m going to be there, well yes.  Still mine.

Come graduation day, I’m going to cry tears of joy, pride and sadness when “my kids” finish their time at St. Joseph’s and move on.  I will probably have to call my mom, who has been through all of this before.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there: real, step, honorary or otherwise.  Many thanks to the moms behind the moms, too—uncis, grandmas, aunties, sisters, and donors who support the children and staff at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  And a big thanks to my mom too.


Claire—high school houseparent

Honoring Long Service, Outstanding Employees

We held our Employee Service Awards and recognition banquet last week. I find it such an affirming evening of celebration. Mary Jane, our Alumni Director, reached 40 years of service! Another five staff members reached the 35-year plateau and eight more celebrated 25 years of being part of St. Joseph’s tiyospayeextended family.

Staff longevity is crucial to offering strong programs for the children at St. Joseph’s Indian School.
Mary Jane, our Alumni Director, reached 40 years of service!

Staff loyalty and longevity are huge reasons our programs for the Lakota children are so strong.

Andy, now part of our rec center staff, started when we still had dormitories – pre-1980! He has seen dramatic transformations in the campus over the years.

While the campus has changed, Andy reflected, the students are much the same, with the same needs to be cared for and loved. We continually strive to find new ways to give the Native American children we serve the structure and direction that will guide them to happiness and success.

Some staff didn’t wait 5 or 10 years to be acknowledged! We also celebrated eight people who were nominated by peers or supervisors for doing those little extras that make everyone’s workday better.  I’m constantly impressed by the passion and commitment that so many people bring to St. Joseph’s Indian School each day.

Andy has seen dramatic changes in his years at St. Joseph’s India School.
Andy started working at St. Joseph’s Indian School when the Lakota children lived in dorms instead of homes.

The Reality of Poverty

I wasn’t on campus for Sunday mass, but covered masses in town this past weekend at St. James parish in downtown Chamberlain. I enjoy preaching to people from all ages and walks of life. While I’ve been faithful to the duties of school administration, there are times that I miss the more spiritual focus that I had as a parish priest and directing seminarians in formation. Leading the community in prayer was a nice way to reconnect.

The Associated Press ran an article about poverty among Native American tribal members in South Dakota. With 65,000 Native Americans in the state, 48% live in poverty.

And it’s not just confined to Indian Reservations.

In Rapid City, our state’s second most populous city, 50.9 % of Lakota people live below the poverty line.

It’s a long uphill climb to combat those kinds of numbers, but we hope the education we provide the Lakota children at St. Joseph’s helps give them a solid foundation to fulfill their potential and rise above poverty.

I traveled 360 miles to Eagle Butte and back for the Sacred Heart Center’s Board of Directors meeting. We approved budgets and personnel plans for the coming year. One potential project with a lot of promise is a joint effort with Habitat for Humanity.

The shelter for victims of domestic violence is often filled to capacity, and families who need to make major changes in their lives aren’t usually able to do so immediately. Transitions take time, and there is great need for transitional housing where a family can be safe and rebuild their shattered lives. The Sacred Heart Center is in discussions with Habitat to help create some housing for that purpose.

Lynette, the cook, treated us to fresh, warm fry bread and corn & bean soup for a traditional lunch – delicious! In her work with youth who have been victimized by violence, she noted that it is usually easier for them to forgive the ones who hurt them than it is to forgive themselves… Violence is a difficult cycle to break, but that is at the heart of the Center’s mission.

Lanae, the new outreach coordinator for Sacred Heart Center remembered singing in the children’s guitar choir when I first served in Eagle Butte as a young seminarian. I enjoyed the reunion with her as an adult now, and the chance to catch up on where she’s been. One of her first fun projects was to have the youth in the shelter make Valentine cards for the elders. They brightened the elders’ day by making the rounds delivering the handcrafted greetings.

In town, I ran into Catherine, another youngster I remembered from parish CCD classes. She is now a Registered Nurse in charge of opening the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s new nursing home. She gave me a tour of the facility, which includes both a chapel and circular room for Lakota ceremony.

Currently, the elderly who need assisted living or nursing care must move off the reservation – at least 90 miles to Pierre or Mobridge, the nearest communities large enough to offer these services. The state of South Dakota had a moratorium on nursing homes, and the tribe had to apply for a special exemption. The building went up several years ago, but it took longer to get funding set up for ongoing operations. When it opens in April, it will provide needed jobs in the community and allow families to have much easier access to their respected elders who want to be close to home.

Today was an office day, catching up on phone calls and e-mails. As in any institution, some days there are stressful issues with staff or students. I bumped into one of our staff going home after a trying day. I asked if it was hard to leave the tough stuff at work. She told me of her ritual to help make the transition: she gets in her car, brushes her arms off in a symbolic gesture, cranks the radio up loud with her favorite song and sings at the top of her lungs on the way down the driveway.

I smiled, seeing the wisdom in physically giving yourself a break from what, at times, can be a stressful and demanding job. Staff who pay attention to their own needs, and get breaks and proper rest and diversion, are the ones who stay happiest and healthiest in the long run.

A weekend update from Fr. Anthony

Greetings once again!

Fr. Steve is away on a Donor Luncheon to the Santa Barbara, California area, which gives me another chance to share with you what’s been happening here at St. Joseph’s.  Initially it seemed like a quiet weekend, but, upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a normal hectic pace with activities happening all over the place!

As you may be aware, last week was Catholic Schools Week around the country.  Fr. Steve and I helped with the spelling bee contest for each of the classes in the elementary program.  There was a lot of reflection on ‘i before e, except after c,’ and the Lakota students did a great job!

Three of our students will be taking part in the contest that crowns a national champion in Washington, D.C. and the others will take part in a state-wide contest later this month in Mitchell, South Dakota.

The fourth and fifth grades sponsored a Catholic School’s Week food drive to gather items to benefit a local domestic violence shelter and St. James’ parish, which is the local Catholic Church in Chamberlain and is also staffed by an SCJ (Priest of the Sacred Heart).

Afra Home (first, second and third grade girls) went to Lower Brule, South Dakota as part of their social outreach program.  They attended Mass and then served the community with cookies and juice.  Each student home does some sort of outreach activity for an entity in the local area.  As many of our Native American students come from the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian Reservations, they like to go back and do something for the elders and their families at home.

On Friday, one of our eighth-grade students, Cassidy, went with the Chamberlain High School gymnastic team to a meet in Wall, South Dakota – home of the famous Wall Drug Store! Chamberlain has a very good team and Cassidy has been part of the JV squad for the past two years.  They are looking forward to qualifying for the state competition.

If you recall, I had mentioned that Chamberlain High School had taken part in the state-wide one act play competition.  Each team must set the stage, perform and take down their set in 45 minutes or less. This year, they did a play by Mark Twain that dealt with trying to improve prices for an artist’s work by putting out the word he was dead.  They performed the play at the regional competition in Pierre, South Dakota, and qualified for the state finals.

Their time slot was 8:00 AM this past Saturday morning.  One cast member said it took several alarm clocks to make sure he got up in time! Despite the early time, they gave it their all and won a superior rating.  One of the leads, Chris, a St. Joseph’s senior, was singled out for extensive praise by the judges.

Sunday was the feast of St. Blasé, and we had the traditional blessing of the throats for the students and staff at our Sunday morning Mass.  In giving the blessing, we ask St. Blasé to intercede and protect those who receive the blessing from any aliment of the throat or other illness.

It was probably good that we did that since there was a lot of screaming and hollering during the Super Bowl later that day.  One of our high school homes hosted a Super Bowl party for the other high school homes, and also invited the eighth graders to attend. They split the fans of the two teams so each could cheer watching their own TV.  There was a lot of good-natured ribbing back and forth and things really got excited and loud when the 49’ers made their late run to try and catch the Ravens.  All sorts of crazy contests—like number of M&Ms in a jar and gag prizes for whenever something special happened in the game – added to the fun.

Saturday gave our fourth, fifth and sixth grade boys’ basketball teams a chance to play their counterparts from Chamberlain.  We play each other twice per season, with each side providing the officials for one of the games.  This time they were from Chamberlain, which may explain why the swept all three games.  The games were close and a good crowd attended.

The weather was crazy as well.  On Thursday many areas of the State called off school because the weather was in the minus 30 degree range! Yet, by Sunday, we were back up to the mid 40’s with lots of melting.

I hope you all have a great week ahead and that our loving God will continue to bless and protect you now and always! We are grateful for your interest in and concern for St. Joseph’s and the programs we offer for the Lakota (Sioux) children.  Pilamayathank you!

Facilities Update

As part of the renovation project, the Summerlee Home will receive some new chairs.
Furniture is ready to take its place in the Summerlee Home!

Our facilities crew is hard at work finishing our remodel projects for the Lakota children at St. Joseph’s Indian School! Here’s an update:

The Summerlee Home is finished other than some minor finishing touches, like hanging bulletin boards and other small jobs. Houseparents are beginning to move some things into the home.  The Summerlee girls are planning on spending their first night in their newly renovated home on February 1.

Now that the Summerlee home is complete, we are able to put more staff on the William Home renovation.

12 Lakota (Sioux) girls in fourth and fifth grades live in the recently remodeled Summerlee Home.
The Summerlee Home now has a snack counter where the girls can visit with their houseparents while they’re preparing dinner.

We just finished taping the sheetrock and will begin the texturing process.  As soon as that’s done, we can start painting. We have also contacted the ceiling installer and he is scheduled to start installing our ceiling grid the first part of February.  The kitchen and bathroom cabinets are under construction in the carpenter’s shop. We hope to have this home completed the first part of April.

The thrift store’s new location is moving along nicely with a completion date in the first part of March.  We have just finished painting the retail section of the store and have moved to the back work and storage areas.  Contractors are in the process of hanging door frames and the ceiling grid will be placed next week.  Once we have our ceiling grids installed, the electricians will be able to start hanging light fixtures.  When the lighting and HVAC processes are complete, we will begin installing carpet and inlay flooring for the retail area, changing rooms, bathrooms, break room, and offices.

Campus Competitions

Lakota students at St. Joseph’s Indian School participate in the annual spelling bee.
Students participate in the annual spelling bee contest.

We held two competitive events on campus yesterday. The first began at 11:30, when several of our staff squared off in our annual chili/non-chili cooking contest. Three recipes gained a ribbon and bragging rights, but everyone on campus was a winner when we got to sample many tasty efforts. I had 11:30 mass, and by the time I reached the tables at noon the early lunch crowd had polished off the top three pots. But the others I sampled were hearty on a cold day and quite delicious. Human resources pulled out some colorful piñatas and recorded fiesta music set a fun tone. We laughed about the Kleenex on the table for runny noses and the bottles of antacids for those who found the samples to hot. It gave staff from different areas on campus the chance to mingle in a way that doesn’t happen often enough.

Then at 1:00 the real drama began as the top six spellers in each grade (determined by an earlier competition in their classrooms) participated in the annual Spelling Bee. Fr. Anthony and I were the word givers, and alternated between the grades. Some words I was glad when the students asked for a definition, because that enlightened me too! A few of the matches ended quickly. When it got down to the final two in 7th and 8th grade the rounds went on a long time. When one of the students had a chance to win, it seemed they would miss the second word and give their opponent another chance.  The winners now advance to the regional competition in Mitchell.

I was at the Hogebach Home (high school girls’ home) last evening when the phone rang. Trinity answered the phone and once she hung up, broke into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” What happened? – because of dangerous cold and wind chill, Chamberlain Public schools called for a 2 hour late start. Almost every high school kid I know would rejoice with a couple extra hours to sleep in. How cold was it? When the William Home (4th-5th) grade girls walked home from the Rec Center after swimming, their hair was frozen in the time it took to walk 2 blocks.

Since our kids live on campus, and the snow isn’t deep enough to cause problems, we pressed on with our regular school day today.  Recess was indoors. When we get a long stretch of cold I notice the students getting cabin fever, but our weather has had enough ups and downs that they haven’t had to stay inside for more than a couple of days.

We’re working on budgets and had to submit our list of planned capital expenses for fiscal year 2014. Because our staff have so many good ideas for improvements, our wish list is always quite long. Then we have to prioritize and decide what we can afford, what our facilities crew has time to get done, and what is most pressing, especially where safety and preventative maintenance are concerned.  Our costliest projects will be the next phase of our campus drainage upgrade, and the tuck pointing of several of our large older brick buildings. Perhaps the ones I’m happiest to see are the remodeling of the last two homes on our list, Afra (1st-3rd girls) and Raphael (1st– 3rd boys). I know the houseparents who live with the children in those two homes have been envious of the improvements we’ve made to all the other homes, and excitedly await similar upgrades and improvements.

Birthdays, walking and more!

The Native American boys and girls at St. Joseph’s love celebrating their birthdays with family.
Pearl invited her brother over for her birthday party.

Greetings from the staff and girls of the William Home!

We have been very busy since our return from Christmas break.  We had our St. Joseph’s Christmas party  the week after the kids came back.  Thank you so much to our donors who helped make the students’ Christmas party possible!

Basketball season for the girls is over but that does not mean that things are not busy! The girls are now involved with tumbling and cheerleading weekly.  We had two girls with birthdays last week, so we hosted parties for them in the home. Each had some of their friends over for supper and cake.  We had a great time!

The Lakota children love receiving presents for their birthdays!
Rose got a Candy Land game for her birthday!

The spelling bee is this week and we’re proud to say four of our girls will participate.

The William Home continues with their walking fitness program and have totaled 13,136 laps, which is just over 656 miles.  We are ahead of our pace to reach 15,200 laps by spring break!

Hope you all enjoy the updates from the William Home and we thank you for all that you do for the Lakota children at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

Everyone deserves a chance to shine

The Lakota girls participated in a community hair shop this weekend, and everyone got a new ‘do!
Araya and Aralyn giggle in anticipation of curly, bouncy hair!

Yesterday, we had a Community Hair Shop to teach staff and students about braiding and decorating hair. We saw lots of cute new do’s sported around campus, and people enjoyed the time thoroughly. I promised one of our other bloggers I wouldn’t say much, and let them add more pictures and descriptions of those events.

Last night, I filled in for mass at St. James parish in downtown Chamberlain. Fr. Guy, the regular pastor, needed to be away attending to his ill father. Three of the pews were filled with very familiar folks – high school students from our St. Joseph’s program. Our older Lakota students enjoy going downtown for church when they don’t have a ballgame or something going on Saturday night. One big draw is that it gives them the chance to sleep in Sunday morning. But, I also know they enjoy taking part in the local community, and mingling with classmates and teachers from the public high school they attend.

I saw the rest of our crew Sunday morning in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel. During the announcements Steve, our HS academic advisor, awarded the traveling academic trophies to Hogebach (HS girls) for the highest overall GPA, and to Carola (HS boys), for the fewest missing or late assignments.

There was also plenty of basketball today! Besides our girls intercity games, the Knights of Columbus and Jaycees teamed up to sponsor a Free Throw and Hot Shot contest. I saw several of our students proudly displaying trophies they’d won.

Jashon (10), Wankiya (11) and Trenton (14) took first place in their age group and will advance to the next level of state competition in two weeks!

I ran into four girls from the Afra Home (1st-3rd grade girls) walking home with their houseparent, Alice, from a trip to the dollar store where they spend some of their allowance. Mariah held out a rubber ball that bounced very high. Neveah, Loverine and Kyla clutched colorful journals they were planning to write their life stories in.

One of the books was titled, “Everyone deserves the chance to shine.”

That’s my hope for each of our students, and brought a smile to my face.