I’ve been on the go a lot, and appreciated the chance to visit with my spiritual director and reflect on what’s been happening in life since we last met. While I face frustrations and bumps along the way, the past two months have been a good ride.
There are times of disturbance and discouragement when our Native American students or staff are having problems. But, those are countered by the times I can help others see with vision, and find reason to hope and move forward.
Afterwards, I took advantage of being away from phone calls and mail to immerse myself in spiritual reading and prayer. In the busy demands of an administrative position, I can’t afford to forget that it’s prayer that nourishes and keeps me going.
Besides serving at risk youth through St. Joseph’s Indian School, I also serve on the board of an adolescent program in Eagle Butte, South Dakota and I traveled North for a board meeting today. When I arrived, all the child service staff were meeting with the counselors and reviewing case service plans and addressing the unique needs of each individual in the program so all the staff are on the same page. As the state faces budget cuts and closes other programs, we are called upon to serve greater numbers of Native American youngsters, and are consistently running near capacity in the 16 bed program. We reviewed the auditor’s report and crunched a lot of numbers, but the real story is the human one behind the numbers. Staff tries to provide a place safe from violence, where young people can put their lives back together and build toward the future.
Sometimes it is help with the little things that can improve quality of life in an immediate and real way.
We also got a report from the secondhand store where St. Joseph’s Indian School sends up a trailer load full of clothing and other items on a regular basis. What is needed more than anything else surprisingly, is everyday household items that I just take for granted: pots, pans, plates and bowls, ect. When those items come in they are snapped right up; people ask for them all the time. Another surprise was how fast baby items quickly disappear as well. Baby blankets and clothes are always needed by the families. While the needs of those who are poor can seem great and at times overwhelming, sometimes it is help with the little things that can improve quality of life in an immediate and real way.
St. Joseph’s Indian School has many ways you can help the Native American youngsters here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Follow the link for more information about how you can help the Lakota (Sioux) children in need.
I’ve had lots of meetings these past two days, which cuts into the time that I’m able to spend directly with the students. But, so many of the meetings are about students, their issues and finding the best ways to reach and care for them. Meetings aren’t as immediately satisfying as hearing a Native American 9-year-old read you a story or hearing about a 12-year-old’s rendition of their own life’s Lakota Winter Count they are drawing for Native American Studies class. But when good decisions are made and followed through, they do make a difference in the daily life of both staff and students. And the work I have to offer up to the Lord is the fair amount of time sitting in meetings.
With some bitterly cold temperatures, outdoor recess is on hold for a few days. With less chance to run around out doors, indoor conflicts usually escalate. Staff is all aware of this pattern, and schedule extra time at the gym or pool to defuse the pent-up energy.
Today, we announced the 1st – 4th grade Honor Roll for the 2nd quarter, and passed out perfect attendance awards for the semester. The students were proud when their name was called and they came forward to claim their certificate, and take their choice of a small prize, like a gel pen or hackeysack ball. We want to affirm all children for what they do well. But we don’t inflate grades and give something to everyone. Students must put in the effort to earn honor – an important Lakota (Sioux) value.
Our 5th graders have been learning about Math and Science all week in a special unit designed by “Operation Starbase” a program put on by the State of South Dakota. In past years they build rockets they ignited and shot high into the air from our football field.
January in South Dakota is not the best time to try an outdoor launch, since the field is covered with snow and the temperatures are in the single digits. The program did undergo a change anyway this year. These new “rockets” the students built were made of plastic straws, rubber tipped cones, and feather shaped fins they themselves designed. They were launched with air pressure rather firepower, and the goal was to try to land their craft on a moon shaped target. Students had to adjust air pressure and angles to shoot for the moon. While it may not have had the wow factor of a rocket hissing high into the air, our students got to launch multiple times, and had lots of fun. This approach helped teach about angles, numbers and basic science.
Chamberlain’s superintendent of schools gave our staff a presentation on a school board proposal to build a new gym/ exercise facility/performing arts center onto the public high school where our St. Joseph’s students attend. It will take the community about 15 years to pay off a bond to finance the center. Money for education is getting tighter as the state cuts back to meet budget shortfalls in this economy. It’s been a dream for several years, and this school board is trying to find a way to see if it is feasible.
At Afra Home (1st-3rd grade girls) I welcomed Alyssa, our newest student. Her brother is in the high school program, and she has several cousins at St. Joseph’s Indian School, so she was already adjusting quite easily. At supper, Lynaiah asked for something that surprised me, “May I please have seconds on peas”? We do make sure the students take some of each kind of food for a balanced diet, and I’m glad when they discover that eating vegetables isn’t a bad thing. I helped review spelling words and math homework before calling it a night.
During homily time at church, I was preaching about how to combat the violence in our world and communities. While addressing the subject of the Arizona shootings, I asked how many of our students have had a family member shot in an act of violence. About 25 hands went up. It’s a sad reality in many of our communities. Tragedies are a topic that our counselors are well aware of when trying to heal the emotional hurts that some of our students bring.
After church, I stopped in on Matthias Home (6th-8th grade girls). Most of the girls were using the time before lunch for their required reading and journalism time, so I let them be quiet and talked more with the houseparents. During lunch Marlena wondered, “What do you do all day – pray?” During the school day the students may only see me pop into the classrooms for a few minutes, and they were wondering also. I told them a few of the things I do, and as always, ask them for suggestions how to make St. Joseph’s Indian School a better place. Usually, they hope for less homework or more allowance, but occasionally I get some good ideas to work on.
Today was the first weekend for our girls intercity league. Four teams of junior high girls, half from St. Joseph’s Indian School and half from town, started their weekly games meant to build camaraderie between the two groups.
Fr. Anthony treated Fr. Dominic and me to supper at a local restaurant. Our waitress was none other than D’Kera, one of our high school students! Several of our older kids are able to juggle school and work to earn spending money for now, and save some for the future. When they do get checks they are required to put some into savings. D’Kera did a fine job serving our table, and since her shift was ending, besides a tip we gave her a ride home and saved the houseparents a trip!
Besides working on the weekend homily and making the Saturday post office run, I stopped at Ambrose (1st – 3rd grade boys) for lunch. I promised Richard that I would take a look at his prized Christmas present – a tiny, light weight remote control helicopter called an “Air Hog” that he could maneuver around the family room. The other boys show off new toys they had been given, then giggled as I tried my hand at skee-ball and bowling on the Wii. My coordination and athletic ability don’t translate so well onto electronic devices.
I sat in the Armory for 5+ hours of basketball, cheering on our high school students. The JV girls lost in two overtimes, the varsity boys lost by a single point in one overtime, and our varsity girls lost a hard-fought game by a single basket. While we didn’t have much success on the scoreboard, I enjoyed the time at the gym to visit with our staff and local townspeople. While those events are time-consuming commitments, I know my presence is noted and appreciated, especially by students.
Today was theoretically a sleep in day, but I was still up before 7:00. I’ve been away so much that rather than take a day off, I hit the office all day.
I had paperwork to sign for educational assistance for two of our staff who are picking up some college classes this semester. One of our counselors wants more training on how medications affect student behavior. Another long-term employee who interrupted school to start a family some years ago, wants to finish up her bachelor’s degree. They both thanked me a lot for giving their request an OK, but I’m not entirely altruistic. I believe that just as a good education helps our students–our staff can improve themselves by going back to school–they can add so much more to their work and our children in need here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.
I stopped in at the Friday night Skate Room movie for the 1st-3rd graders. I got my quota of hugs for the day. While the kids laid on the floor with blankets and pajamas, the houseparents sat around a table, catching up on conversation while trimming box top labels. When you have a dozen 8 and 9-year-olds to take care of around the clock, sometimes you just appreciate the chance to have an adult conversation.
Over in the Recreational Center, I joined some of the students and staff shooting baskets. Michael, one of our alumni who is working here as a custodian, talked about his desire to go on to a four-year college after he finishes his courses at the tribal community college. He dreams of coming back here and working with kids who were once in his shoes, and helping them to believe in themselves and set their goals high. I encouraged him heartily, and listened as he talked about the things that he saw holding his friends and classmates back.
The first day back in the office after time away means extra time on the phone and answering mail, and today was no exception. We also had a Board of Directors conference call today, and packed a lot of business into a 90 minute session. Our board members are spread out over several different states, and we only meet together on campus twice a year. We find that in between phone conferences, those visits keep the everyday business rolling along.
Next, I met with my Management Team. We are making preparations for our mission awareness week in March. We want all of our staff to understand the philosophy and values that St. Joseph’s Indian School was founded on, and talked about ways to make it come alive. We’ll have some combination of prayer services and small group gatherings to help people own and think about those principles.
While I just got back from one donor luncheon trip, it’s time to begin preparations for the next one. Come February, we will travel to Tucson, Arizona. I practiced with Brendan and Isaiah, who had a lot to say for a first time practice. In light of the tragic shootings in Tucson, one of the boys asked if we would be safe there. Our hearts do go out to all those who have suffered from violence there and elsewhere.
Since Brendan and Isaiah are both from Speyer (6th – 8th grade boys) after practice I joined their home for dinner. The students didn’t get to hang around too long because tonight, they were off to basketball practice. In those cases they do their homework right away when they get home from school.
After flights to Chicago and then a transfer to Sioux Falls, I was back home by late afternoon. I did a fair amount of reading in the air, and came across a remark by St. Thomas that the highest form of intelligence is intuition. Some things we know by study, others from experience. But sometimes, you just have to go with your gut tells you, even if you can’t say exactly why.
I often pray that God will keep my heart always pointed in the right direction.
I stopped in at Hogebach (HS Girls) for supper. Often with busy schedules, the High School girls eat and run but tonight, to the surprise of their houseparents, they sat and talked for a full hour and were almost late for their Daughters of Tradition meeting.
What got us started talking, was when I asked them what they would be most interested to see when they come back to our St. Joseph’s Indian School campus in ten or twenty years. The young women I spoke with have been here since at least third grade, and have noticed big changes in our high school program since they first came to St. Joseph’s Indian School. They wonder what it will be like a generation from now, and what changes will be made. They recounted funny stories that had us all laughing about things that they remember over the years. They spoke about jobs they would like to have if they came back to St. Joseph’s to work, which I always encourage. They shared about life at Chamberlain High School. When they are one of a few American Indian students in the classroom, it’s hard when they get asked to answer a question “from a Native American perspective” – like they are able to speak for a whole tribe of people. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young person’s shoulders as they’re struggling to find their own voice and their own ideas. The time with them was a real treat.
In preparation for a meeting, I was supposed to fly into Milwaukee last night, but all the flight delays and cancellations meant staying overnight in Minneapolis. The rebooked flight finally got to Milwaukee this morning–as soon as the wheels hit the ground–everyone dug out their cell phones and buried themselves in the latest texts and email messages. Everyone in the plane sat shoulder to shoulder, but with no conversations or interactions. And we wonder why many people feel lonely even among crowds of people.
I came to meet with my Provincial Council about St. Joseph’s Indian School’s planning to expand the museum and add better space for our alumni to visit. A big part of the project also involves floor space to tell the story of the history of St. Joseph’s Indian School. This afternoon, I provided background material, cost estimates, drawings, and answered questions as best I could. Observations from the Council helped provide direction and guidance. I’m finding this building project is taking a lot of work on the front end, so that it can be as useful and good as we hope when it’s finished.
Our SCJ retirement home is in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin. I visited those members of our community and joined them for supper. Many of them also served in South Dakota, at St. Joseph’s Indian School or one of the missions. They invested a lot of themselves among the Lakota (Sioux) people and reminisced about the early days of the work.
This was my first trip back to the “home office” in over a year, since before I got sick. Everyone was very curious about my health, and I provided the latest updates. Everyone remarks how “normal” I look and say that with a sigh of relief and delight.