It’s never a slow time at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

Fr. Anthony, St. Joseph's Chaplain
Fr. Anthony, St. Joseph’s Chaplain

Greetings from an active St. Joseph’s Indian School!

It seems the campus has been invaded by all sorts of groups. The 8th grade graduates who are moving into the high school program are back and taking part in an orientation program to prepare them for next year. They are busy meeting their teachers at Chamberlain High, figuring the layout of the school and taking a peek into the Homes they’ll be joining this coming August when school starts up again. They’ll be on campus until June 10th.

Four of our High School Homes are open to accommodate the 36 students who are staying at St. Joseph’s for the summer.   Nine of these students are signed up for Driver’s Education, which lasts for two weeks.  Some students are working on campus at our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center and as counselors for our Rising Eagle Day Camp.  Others are busy tutoring students in the summer break home and helping with summer custodial work. A few are even working at local stores and car dealerships!

It’s been so nice to see many familiar faces around campus.

Four of our students—Liliana, Melvina, Ashley and Hope—and two advisors recently returned from Germany as part of our student exchange program!  Continue reading “It’s never a slow time at St. Joseph’s Indian School!”

Unveiling a mural

At the end of the school day we unveiled a new mural in St. Joseph’s art room. Markus Tracy was the artist-in-residence who worked with our Native American students for the past two weeks. They worked to create a concept and bring it to life on the classroom wall.

Seventh grader Kaitlyn and one of St. Joseph’s youngest students, second grader Gavin, had their designs and ideas incorporated into the work. Fifth grader Justina saw part of a poem she wrote included in the design.

A cloth covered the wall, and our Chalk Hills Singers drum group sang an honor song to begin the festivities. Gavin and Kaitlyn then (to the roll of a drum) dramatically pulled off the cover and unveiled the work!

St. Joseph’s art room has a new mural, thanks to the Lakota children and artist Markus Tracy.
The Lakota students worked with artist Markus Tracy to create a mural for the art room.

The mural was painted in a way that the rising sun coming into the classroom window each morning from the East will be part of the art – a dynamic living piece as it arcs its way across the room.

Afterwards, attendees could snack on fresh vegetables, cheese and crackers. Talking to the artists, they were very proud about what they helped accomplish. Hopefully it will stimulate their creativity and imagination for many more beautiful efforts.

New adventures, abroad and in the snow

Each summer, we offer a 3-week exchange program with our sister school – also founded by the Priests of the Sacred Heart – in Handrup, Germany. Yesterday, eight of our Native American high school students interested in applying for consideration had their chance to make a power point presentation to a the staff of St. Joseph’s High School program.

They were honest about their fears: lost luggage, not understanding much German, how would they get along with the host families. They also spoke of what they hoped to gain from the experience: a different sense of history, the self-confidence that comes from trying new adventures, appreciation of another culture, and preparation for college.

One girl said that, while both of her parents are Sioux, one of her great grandfathers was a German Homesteader, and she would be fascinated with exploring that connection.

I enjoyed each of the presentations. I was there for moral support, and am glad I’m not the one who has to make the final determination on who goes. Most of the students were juniors, but a couple are still sophomores, so if not selected this year, they will have the chance to try again.

Our younger Lakota students are taking computerized standard testing called MAPS. They’ve proven to be patient throughout the sometimes trying process. One benefit for them is that homework is light this week due to the tests.

After school, many headed to the football field to take advantage of sledding. The sun came out and warmed the ground above melting. Once the sun went down, the slopes refroze and created conditions for long and fast runs down the hill.

As I called it a day, and came past on my way home, the squeals of delight rang in my memory.

Lakota students celebrating the Rite of Acceptance

We had a large group of Native American students, nineteen in all, take part in our RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation of Children) today in church. We celebrated the Rite of Acceptance. They’ve been studying for a couple of months now, and are starting to intensify their sacramental preparations. One of the rituals involves a seven fold signing of the senses, blessing the students for example on the ears, eyes, hearts and hands. A few giggled, but most were very prayerful, as it is a moving gesture.

Two of last year’s high school graduates, Danisha and Erin, returned to campus after successfully navigating their first semester of college. After church they went to their former Hogebach Home (HS girls) cooked their friends brunch, and told them of their adjustment and transition to college life.

Boys’ intercity basketball finished up their season today. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade boys from St. Joseph’s and from town play together to have fun, exercise and give them a chance to know one another in new ways. The Bulls had only one loss on their record, and they avenged that defeat by beating the Heat in the championship game. The day also featured 3-point shot and free throw competition. Two awards per team were passed out, not for the highest scorers, but for the boys who hustled and participated and had the best attitude and sportsmanship.

Because of last week’s snowstorm, several of the Dancing Dolls and their families didn’t get a chance to take in the performance. The group used our Rec Center for a reprise, and campus swarmed with visitors in the evening.

Guest Blogger: LaRayne

We have been waiting to allow our Native American students to take part in what used to be a very common, easily created ceremony.  With a burn ban in effect since the summer here in South Dakota, and without a staff person to be able to pour water for the sacred ceremony, Inipi – the Lakota rite of purification – was a rare occurrence at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

We now have a Cultural Specialist on staff to help our students, families and staff learn more about the culture of our Oceti Sakowin people.

Dave came to us in September. In the classroom, he has taught us to play the old hand games and has also worked with the boys and girls on the drum. He shares as much as he can to help staff learn too.

In addition to spending time in classrooms, Dave pours water for the Inipi ceremony. He was able to do this for our older boys (sixth grade through high school) just days after the burn ban was lifted.  It is a ceremony of prayer.  All areas of living beings are a part:  rocks, people, four legged and winged.  It is a gateway to learning more language and culture for our students.

We will take Dave’s expertise to the Lakota Nation Invitational in the hand games competition on December 21.  A group of students who have grasped the hand game songs and way of playing will travel to Rapid City, South Dakota for the day and then off for a long Christmas break.  We’ll let you know how they fair at the games!

Growing to their potential

Placing the finished box of staff Christmas cards on Carma’s desk in payroll gave me a feeling of freedom. I could just sign my name and be done quickly, but I try to write a personal note to each because everyone here has an important role to play in making a difference in the lives of our Lakota students. I feel blessed and grateful to be surrounded by so many passionate, creative, hard working folks with lots of ideas and the knack for following through to make things happen. My next task will have to be attending to the incoming pile of Christmas cards growing on my desk . We hear from lots of donors this time of year, and I’m humbled by their generosity.

Last night the five high school homes had their community meeting and announced who gets possession of the traveling academic trophies. The boys of Carola Home not only retained the trophy for the least missing assignment, but passed the Hogebach girls for the highest GPA. Hogebach had the trophy on a shelf near their dining room table. When I walked by the boys home this morning, I saw both trophies sitting in the window, out there for everyone to notice. That kind of pride and competition is OK in my book, and hope that our Native American students continue to push each other to learn and grow to their potential.

Guest Blogger: Peggy

Hello everyone, my name is Peggy, St. Joseph’s Indian School’s 4th grade teacher!

Second quarter is well underway!  Thanksgiving Break is now beginning and it won’t be long until we are into the Christmas season.  Maybe it is all the good weather, but the year has really seemed to fly!

hoop-dancing-SJISI have included pictures of our Native American students at St. Joseph’s Indian School’s powwow.  That was held in September, but it is a time always on their minds.  They enjoy knowing about and participating in events related to the Lakota (Sioux) culture.  On Native American Day, we did many activities to promote the culture.  In my class, we listened to storytellers on YouTube.

In Science, we have Lakota words that go with the unit we are studying.  It’s always nice to tie the two things together.  It’s fun when students come in using the Lakota words.  One time we were studying frogs, and the students came running in saying they had found a gnaska’ on the playground!

In they came with a dead frog in a sandwich bag …  I tried to display it, but the smell was too much! I was thrilled that they had used the Lakota word instead of the English word.  Right now we are studying weather.  In South Dakota, Thanksgiving brings us osni’  cold!

SJIS-powwowToday before the students left, we celebrated a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  We read the story, watched the video and then students were brought into a room that was set up like the actual dinner.  We had pretzels, popcorn, toast and jelly beans!  Some of the students quoted the story asking,

“What blockhead made this?”

It was a good laugh!  It was nice to see the students sitting around, relaxing and visiting with each other.

Academics continue.  We are well into multiplication.  For some it is an easy transition from addition, but for others there is a real struggle.  We continue to work and find ways for all students to feel success.  In science, we are working on weather and soon will study the planets.  Reading continues to work with fluency and comprehension.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving and are anticipating celebrating Christ’s birth in the season ahead!

4th Grade Teacher

Homemade birthday cards and dancing at St. Joseph’s

Health Update – I got back last night from a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I’ve been feeling great, yet still need to check in with the oncologists every six months to make sure the sarcoma doesn’t rear its ugly head again. Recurrence is a problem with soft tissue cancer. All the scans went well, with no signs of problems, thanks be to God. I’m so appreciated of people’s continued prayers and support!

One of our students asked me if I went to boarding school. The answer is yes, High School Seminary. When he followed up wondering if I ever got homesick, I could see the tears forming in his eyes. He had a nice Thanksgiving with his grandmother, and now that he’s back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, he’s missing her and his relatives so much. He knows St. Joseph’s is a good place for him to be, yet all of us on staff realize how emotionally hard it is to be away. I got homesick several times, even when I moved away for college. Imagine what must go through the mind and heart of a child as young as six! We try to be as supportive as we can, and if family can be reached, give the child a chance to call home and talk. But sometimes there are tears, calling forth a hug or pat on the back, and solidarity with the lonely sadness.

Happy birthday Carol!
Happy birthday Carol!

I joined the Fisher Home (6th– 8th grade boys) for supper. David and Gayle are two of our newest houseparents and are quickly learning the routine and developing relationships with the boys. Gayle likes to cook from scratch and put a great meal on the table that fed the hearty appetites of ten teenage boys. After supper, everyone pitched in to clean up the area of the home they had particular responsibility for. They rotate duties, since no one is particularly fond of washing pots or cleaning bathrooms. Students take good care of the place, although it helps to have houseparents check things over. Carol is a six day houseparent in Fisher and celebrates a birthday tomorrow. After the table was cleaned up, the guys got out paper and crayons and created a pile of cute homemade birthday cards to greet Carol with when she comes in tomorrow. It’s been a while since I got out the crayons, but I gave it my best effort as well.

I noticed the lights on in the Skating Room and stopped to find a group of 4th and 5th grade girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” performance. I asked the girls to demonstrate what they have of their routine so far. They started with some timidness and hesitancy, but once they got the beat down, started to lose themselves in the music and have fun. I look forward to seeing how they respond in front of the crowd a couple of weeks from now.

The girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” routine.
The girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” routine.

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.

Overcome life’s hardships

Moving a building from St. Joseph's Indian School.
Goodbye old friend!

We bid goodbye to an old friend today. A building actually, that has served us quite well over the years, first as an art room and primary grades classroom, and then as a storage facility for our Akta Lakota Museum. Now that the new storage area has been added on, we worked a deal with the city where we donated the building for them for storage, and they picked up the cost of moving the building. Now we will expand our parking lot so it’s not so crowded for ball games at the Rec Center or busy times at the museum.

Some days, I have a lot of interaction with our Lakota students, but today I had almost none. It was a day of meetings, and the first was an all morning workshop by a Yankton Sioux woman named Faith Spotted Eagle. Her personal experiences of encountering prejudice and discrimination made her presentation on historical trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder engaging and unforgettable.

I also appreciated the way she drew forth stories and examples from our staff who participated. Our own hurts, grief and losses affect how we respond to situations and how we treat others. When we acknowledge them and heal, we can be all the more compassionate and get to the heart of the matter. Faith went on to speak about cultural traditions, like the ceremony welcoming a girl into adulthood, that have been successfully used to help strengthen young people to overcome life’s hardships.

In the afternoon, our Child Services Team spoke about a variety of issues, including how best to respond to our Native American students when they are faced with the death of a relative. We already have an annual grief camp. A proposal was discussed about forming some TEARS (Together in Empathy And Respectful Support) teams to address grieving needs on a more immediate and regular basis. Rarely a week goes by where some family isn’t experiencing a funeral, some of them sad and tragic.

We ended the day with our safety and security meeting. You’ll be happy to note that our students did what they were supposed to during the earthquake drill, which we are required to do, even though that hasn’t been a serious threat in this part of the country for many eons. Still, it shows me that our staff is on top of things and making sure we do the things we are supposed to do.