Catching up around campus

After being on the road several days Wednesday was a catch up day with meetings and answering messages. February is the time we put budgets together for next year, and work on the school calendar, so we’re all trying to look ahead and make plans for what we will need.

One of the goals for our strategic plan is to develop more opportunities for our younger students to interact with children in the Chamberlain school in the hopes that it will help build friendships for our Native American students who continue on to Chamberlain High School.

Kathleen, our principal, helped me brainstorm about some ideas.

  • Could we host an art fair or exhibit that would showcase works from area children?
  • When we or one of the other area schools have a speaker or activity that would appeal to youngsters, do we think to invite other schools?

In a time when school resources are stretched, collaboration is one answer. But collaboration has its own rewards as well, particularly breaking down barriers and giving students the chance to know one another.  We’ll work to try some activities next year.

Kathleen also shared a project she’s been working on with the student leadership group. They’ve been asked about the qualities of a good teacher, and the traits that get in the way of developing a trusting, working relationship. Fairness, and not playing favorites is at the top of both lists. They don’t expect a teacher to be their best friend, but a smile and sense of humor goes a long way in helping youngsters to feel comfortable. While they didn’t use the word “sarcastic” that was the attitude that best described what turned them off in the classroom.

Aaron, who does most of our videotaping projects, asked me to stop by his office to work on a piece for our historical display. In a section about life on Indian Reservations today, I remarked that while there are a host of social problems, we need to also acknowledge the positive developments.

Since I’m the one who insisted we tell that part of the story, I was elected to talk about tribal colleges, cultural preservation efforts, wildlife conservation and land management. There is still a long way to go, but hopefully our Lakota (Sioux) students will be part of the generation that can turn things around for their tribes and families.

I stopped by Summerlee Home (4th-5th grade girls). We just completed the remodel of their home, and the girls were excited about moving back in, especially the fifth graders, who remembered how it looked last year. I got the grand tour and they made sure to show me how their beauty parlor chair and hair washing sink worked.

I checked in on our thrift store conversion project. Our crew was installing the slat walls around the perimeter and finishing up some wiring. We hope to start moving clothes and other merchandise in a couple of weeks, and open sometime in March. Downtown Chamberlain is getting a new drug store and city hall as well, so we hope it helps keep our small town main street active and vibrant.

We hold case service plans for each of our students twice a year. The student meets with their Family Service Counselor, homeroom teacher, and one of their houseparents to see what areas they are successful in and in what areas they need improvements. Students’ families are invited to take part either in person or via conference call. We work hard to increase parental involvement. Unfortunately, many of our students are at St. Joseph because their parents have not been involved in their education and upbringing.

I sat in on a couple of meetings for two girls, and learned more about their issues and challenges. None of their parents or guardians were able to attend. One came to us after her family wound up in a domestic violence shelter. After six months at St. Joseph’s Indian School, she is starting to rebuild self-confidence and is showing leadership with younger girls in her home.

The second girl has only been here a few weeks, and is way behind her classmates in academics. Her teacher talked of the need for more testing to see what she needs to catch up on so she can move forward. It’s a long process that takes patience on both sides of the desk.

But that’s exactly why we’re here.

The students were also given the chance ahead of time to write down activities in the home or school they enjoy and would like to see more of, as well as concerns they may have.

Though it’s only 25 degrees outside, after school kids still flocked to the basketball courts! After we moved a storage building and put up some temporary goals on the foundation, that has been a draw for the students. The portable goals have been set low enough for fifth graders to dunk, and they showed me some of their best one handed jams as they dreamed of getting a college scholarship or NBA contract some day.

Afterwards, I joined the Cyr Home (4th-5th grade boys) for supper. They had a session at the Rec Center reserved, so as soon as the dishes were washed, the boys crowded the couches and counters to get tomorrow’s home work done. I helped with some spelling and vocabulary words. It’s easy for an adult to give answers to a worksheet, but much harder to get a child to reason out loud and come up with their own conclusions. But that’s what it takes for them to learn.

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!

Learning from our Native American youth

This morning started with a staff appreciation breakfast at the dining hall. The food services crew put together a waffle bar with four different kinds of fruit toppings, along with syrup and whipped cream, that one could make into a creation to suit their own tastes. At these events, we also have a fun trivia contest to give staff a chance at winning door prizes. Donna, our Human Services Director told me we will have to figure out a new approach because, with the advent of smart phones, most of the people can just look up the answers at their fingertips!

I’m experiencing that time of year when there are fewer big projects to attend to, but lots of little, ongoing, daily events. While those aren’t the kind most likely to make headlines, sometimes it is most satisfying just to roll with the day as it unfolds and be able to pay attention to the people who pass my way.

Today I wrote copy for upcoming newsletters and visited the classrooms at school. Our photographer, Emily, was around and snapped a few shots that you’ll probably see somewhere down the road. This evening, I met with two of our high school girls, Daylon and Erica, who will travel to Miami, Florida next month. Both are freshmen and both have been here for seven years.

I learned a lot from their perspective as they talked about what they will share with our donors about their lives at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Good food and good company

Activities continued at the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament (LNI) in Rapid City, South Dakota. After the Knowledge Bowl concluded, our Lakota (Sioux) students took individual tests in their strongest school subjects. They competed against other gifted and talented Native American youth from across the state of South Dakota, but mostly, I emphasized, they were competing against themselves, as they try to grow in knowledge. Not winning, not being the best or brightest can be a powerful incentive to study harder and learn more.

True wisdom begins when we know what we don’t know.

Our high school team will stay on another day, but I had to get back to Chamberlain for our end-of-the-year staff Christmas party. On the first part of the drive, I turned the radio on to hear how some of the basketball games were going and head a ballgame broadcast entirely  in Lakota! That’s a creative way to spark interest and keep the Lakota language alive. It wasn’t too long before the reception faded, I turned off the radio, and appreciated the silence on the three-hour drive home. With little traffic, traveling in South Dakota can be very meditative and a good time for taking stock of blessings, and things I need to work on.

Jodee won the shiniest sweater! She looked great!
Jodee won the shiniest sweater! She looked great!

Many of our staff, including the maintenance crew and the development office people who are still answering all the mail and donor requests work year round. Our teachers and most houseparents are on a school schedule and will have the next two weeks off. Tonight was a night to relax and celebrate the successful completion of the first semester.

The planning committee threw in a new wrinkle this year and awarded prizes for the best Christmas sweaters – shiniest, most beautiful and most creative. We had some characters with lights and bulbs and tinsel which let to lots of laughter. Good food and good company. Thanks to all who worked so hard to make the evening a fun success!