Helping children achieve their full potential

This morning after mass I saw a group of people wandering around Wisdom Circle looking lost. A group of education students from Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell started two days of observation in our classrooms. I escorted them to the principal’s office, and answered a few questions about our Native American students and programs along the way.

Later, when I checked how they were doing, they were impressed by what they saw in the classrooms. It helps to see the theory you’ve been learning about in college put into practice in a real and practical way.

The Honor Roll and Perfect Attendance awards for the first quarter were announced at the end of the school day. Students sat on the floor of the school gym and those so honored proudly came forward as their name was called to receive a certificate. They also got to choose from some attractive Native  American-themed notebooks and bookmarks.

We try not to be guilty of grade inflation, but did have FIVE students who earned all A’s! Those who continue with good grades, and those who can bring up their semester grades to all B’s and A’s will get to attend a fun and special banquet in January. Even without special rewards, our teachers are encouraging each student to work hard at achieving their potential.

What a great learning lesson!
What a great learning lesson!

Last night I stopped by Pinger Home (6th– 8th grade girls) for a visit and stayed for supper. The home won a Monopoly game from the Halloween decorating contest and Calista asked if anyone wanted to play. I’m a capitalist baron from way back, and soon was collecting big money from my railroads. There were lots of rules that students didn’t understand, especially having to do with mortgaging property or the 10% tax on the space just past GO, so we turned it into a fun math lesson. The game ended in a four-way tie as we ran out of time and the girls had to go to their Wednesday night enrichment class. Ironically, the theme the 6th-8th grade community is covering this month is money management!!!

Winter months make for a quieter season in our Akta Lakota Museum, so we chose this time to start the demolition of the old bathrooms and about a third of the display space to make room for some new presentations. After checking out the work, I stopped to see how our receptionist was doing in her new space. She was on the phone with a donor so I decided to check out how the new archive and collection storage facility looked now that we’ve moved everything into that area.

As soon as I opened the door the alarms went off with a loud siren! It took Vicki and I a while to figure out how to disarm the system and, by then, we’d attracted plenty of attention. At least we know the security system works!

About two weeks ago we sent out our Christmas appeal, which is the biggest mailing of the year. People have begun generously responding and we had many trays of mail arrive at the post office today. Our departments take turns helping sort mail when we’re busy, and it was Tipi Press staff’s day to sort. When I saw the email appeal for help sorting, I left my desk and joined them.

I enjoyed the chance to chat and catch up with what everyone is doing. While such a job can tedious, when many people pitch in it goes quickly. And I never complain about lots of mail, but give thanks that people care and want to help us make a difference!

Fourth and fifth grade students from Crow Creek grade school, our neighbors to the north, came to our gym for girls’ basketball games. The referees give players that age lots of leeway as they try to learn the basics of the game. They usually let double dribbles slide until it obviously becomes triple dribble. Our St. Joseph’s fourth graders played with enthusiasm, but could only get a couple of balls to drop through the hoop and were never in contention. Our fifth graders were more competitive and led the whole game until the fourth quarter, when the Chieftans rallied to win by 4.

Igloyaye – responsibilities

On the national election day, our Lakota students also got to learn about the democratic process by participating in a vote themselves. Students served as poll watchers and vote counters and got to weigh in on national and state-wide candidates, as well as the constitutional amendments on our state ballot. Perhaps someday our students will be in the running for tribal or state office.

Paul, one of our alumni, now works for the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls. They have a mobile screening unit, and through Paul’s efforts they are on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus this week to offer heart screenings to St. Joseph’s staff. We put a lot of emphasis on health and wellness, and identifying potential problems before they get too far along is crucial.

I took advantage of the offer and went through the tests. It began with taking a blood sample to examine cholesterol, and an EKG to monitor the heart. We won’t get the EKG results back for a few days, but when we moved on to the mobile CT unit for a scan of the heart and arteries, we saw the results moments later. I was pleased and relieved to find out that I don’t have any plaque buildup in my arteries. But like all of us, I cannot rest on my laurels and must stay active and be more careful with my diet.

A word we’ve used for years to describe the chores students do to help around the home has been “charges.” Students rotate the duties of dishes, setting the table, sweeping, vacuuming and keeping the house neat and tidy. Our Child Services Team has recommended now using the word “responsibilities” instead.

The Lakota word  for this is “igloyaye.” Dave, our Lakota language instructor sent us all a brief recording so we can all learn to pronounce the word, and more importantly help the students to learn that helping in a responsible way has deep roots in their own tradition. Click here to learn how to pronounce igloyaye – responsibilities!

We took preliminary eighth grade graduation pictures today. These are the group photos we’ll print and send to our donors a few months from now. I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School a full 8 years now, so I was here when this group of Native American students entered St. Joseph’s as first graders!

Some came later along the way, but I have many memories of each of them growing up before  my eyes. I encouraged the students to keep working hard so, when they walk down the aisle six months from now, they’ll be ready to tackle the new demands of high school!

Guest Blogger: Dianne

Hi, my name is Dianne—I am Administrative Assistant in the school— and I just thought I would catch you up on what is going on at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

We are in the fourth week of the second quarter of school—just a couple of weeks until Thanksgiving Break, and midterm is a week away.  This year has gone by so fast, but time flies when you’re having fun!

And fun we have had … Halloween was so much fun for all the students and staff. A good portion of the school was dressed up in their costumes for the day and after school everyone went trick or treating here on campus.  I, myself, came as a rock star!  Many of the offices and all of the homes have had Halloween treats to share.  At the end of trick or treating, the Rec Center has a grand march and costume judging contest.  There are so many innovative costumes to see!  It really is fun to watch!

We are very busy here at school with our regular schedule of classes and many extracurricular activities also.  Today, we have two girls basketball games—one here at St. Joseph’s and one away.

Service Plan Meetings are being held, which are much like Teacher/Parent Conferences and are held twice per year. These include the teacher, the parent/guardian, the family service counselor, the houseparent and the student themselves.

This week we will have our Honor Roll Assemblies for first quarter.  Our prizes have arrived and they will be given out to those on the A and B Honor Roll and those with Perfect/Outstanding Attendance for first quarter.  I think the students will love what we ordered for them—notebooks and bookmarks with Native American designs. They are quite beautiful!  I also have made their certificates on award paper with Native American designs.

We have a lot to accomplish before Thanksgiving Break, which seems to be just around the corner.  It will be a good time for staff and students alike to take a little break from all the daily schoolwork and teaching to regroup and be ready to begin refreshed when we return.

Thanks for all your support to aid us in what we do for our Native American students!

Guest Blogger: Julie H.

Greetings friends of St. Joseph’s Indian School!  I hope the Feast of All Souls Day finds  you doing well!

Things here on St. Joseph’s campus are going well!  It is hard to believe we have finished our first quarter of school and are already a couple of weeks into the second quarter.  My, how times flies!  The students are working hard to keep their grades up and do well in school.

Happy Halloween from everyone at St. Joseph's Indian School!
Happy Halloween from everyone at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

Halloween was a great hit.  Most of the kids dressed up in costumes and there were some great costumes!  The students were able to trick-or-treat here on campus and then take part in a costume contest.  Some of the homes also went into Chamberlain to trick-or-treat as well.  All of the students I have talked to say they really enjoyed Halloween!

With Halloween past us now, the next big events on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School are girls basketball, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We haven’t seen much snow here yet, so I wonder if we will have a white Christmas this year!

Our girls’ basketball seasons kicks off on Monday, November 5.  The girls are very excited to begin their season.  The girls are working hard in practice and learning all they can in the short time they have before their games begin.  Basketball season is always a busy time as all of the games take place between early November and Christmas Break.  With as fast as this school year is going, both Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here before we know it!

As we move closer to Thanksgiving, I would like to thank each and every one of you for all of the support you give to St. Joseph’s Indian School.  Please know that you are remembered in our prayers!

Julie H.
Family Service Counselor

Guest Blogger: Dianne

Hi!  My name is Dianne and this is my first time blogging! I thought I’d start by letting you know a little bit about myself.  I have been Administrative Assistant here at St. Joseph’s going on 36 years.  I love my job, love the kids, and love what St. Joseph’s stands for.

My job in the office is always very busy—students come to me when they don’t feel well and I determine if they need a cough drop, an ice bag (quite a popular seller here!), if they need to go to the Health Center, or just some tender loving care.  We see many students for other reasons like “I can’t find my planner,” “I lost my glasses,” “Which class am I supposed to be in now,” “I’m lost,” etc. !

We have several new students and this way I get to know them personally.  Actually, the kids are my favorite part of my job!  They come from many different places, but seem to find their place in the world here, make friends, and do quite well!  The little first graders are so darn cute—they steal your heart away.

Two scary monsters at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Two monsters at an Academic Awards Banquet!

Today we have many different things going on in the school—we just finished our first quarter of school so I am busy getting report cards out and figuring out who is on the A and B honor roll.  We will have an awards assembly and present them with their certificate and a prize.  If students are on the honor roll two quarters in a row, they get to attend the Academic Banquet.  I have helped with the banquet several years now—we always have a theme with fun decorations, serve a meal and give door prizes and awards.  Some of our themes have been The 50’s—Rock and Roll, Tie Dyed—70’s, Monsters, Candy Land, Disco and many, many more.

We are now on Infinite Campus, a statewide program, so the job of grades and report cards has been made easier for all.  Also, the students’ parents and/or guardians can check their progress at home.  It has been a challenge for us all to acclimate ourselves to doing things a different way, but will be well worth it in the long run.

I keep track of attendance and also of activities on campus which I include on the weekly FYI.  I enjoy putting this together and adding clip art and pictures of our students along with the activities.  I have been including powwow pictures for some time now as they are enjoyable to look at and very colorful also!

Our school is always a very busy place like all schools—our Native American students live here on campus and go to school also. This gives us a good chance to really get to know them well. I still see kids who went to school here years ago—many of them have their own kids enrolled here!  I think this speaks very highly of what we do here.

Thanks for your support!

Say cheese!

The staff and Native American youth at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Say cheese and smile big!

This morning all our students and staff gathered in front of the school for our annual group picture. Emily bravely stood high above us on a tall ladder. With the cool autumn winds swirling leaves around our feet, we got some 300 people to (mostly) smile at the same time so we can preserve the memories of the 2012-2013 school year at St. Joseph’s.

Chamberlain High School has a fall break, which proved perfect for a trip. The entire Sheehy Home (boys) and our two high school girls who went to Germany last summer (Erika and LaToya) are showing our German exchange students the tourist and cultural sites in Western South Dakota. I’m joining them for the first part of the trip.

Our caravan consisted of a white mini-bus, the high school suburban and my car, and pulled out mid-morning. We made up sack lunches and ate at a roadside rest area along the way to the Badlands. I had two of our seniors, Chris and Erika in my car, and offered them the opportunity to help drive. The other students teased them about me taking a big chance.

In South Dakota, the roads are pretty open and have little traffic anyway, but I remember how much it meant to me when I first got my license and I was trusted enough with the responsibility of driving. Besides, if we are going to teach our students life skills, independence and responsibility, that’s what any parent would do. They both did great. I did take the wheel through the badlands, since there is so much to see, and I wanted everyone else to look.

We hiked for an hour or so to shake off the travel sleepiness. Our German visitors  marveled at the giant sand castle-like formations that seem almost otherworldly, but also the vast treeless plains and vistas of the horizon all along the way. Some of our more adventurous students climbed high into the peaks, while most of us stuck to the marked trails.

Our vehicles were stopped by a herd of about ten bighorn sheep crossing the road looking for a new spot to graze. We also took a look at one of the larger prairie dog towns and saw hundreds of them scurrying about.

Chris’s family lives in Rapid City, and his mom, grandmother and aunt had supper waiting for us – Indian Tacos. Lots of frybread and fixings to feed a group of hungry high schoolers. It gave the exchange students a real taste of local culture.

Guest Blogger: Cindy K.

Hello, my name is Cindy K. and I work in the school office at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  My day is full of many interesting details, which are never the same two days in a row!  It is always exciting to see what the day will hold. It includes answering the phone, sending students to the health center, doing state reporting, helping staff and I even have to do a little trouble shooting with the copiers when they are jammed or not working.

I have worked at St. Joseph’s Indian School for over 15 years and it has been a thrill for me to get to know the students from year to year.  Especially those that return to visit and tell us (the staff) how much they learned in their time at St. Joseph’s.

I also work with the Residential and Clinical Departments.  This includes helping with admissions during the summer, setting up Service Plan meetings for students, keeping track of incentive cards and other organizational duties.

This year, we have switched to the District Edition of Infinite Campus.  It is a complex but very fact-filled system.  The system is able to show parents and staff when student assignments are due, as well as their grades and attendance.  I’m able to import students from other schools when they start attending school here at St. Joseph’s.  They need to be entered, given a school schedule, and a household name with any brothers or sisters who also attend St. Joseph’s. This year, the report cards will be run from this system.  It will be an exciting time to see how this will all come together at the end of the quarter.

Our powwow was a huge success with many benefactors attending and participating this year.   The weather cooperated and we enjoyed a fun-filled day outside watching the dancers. I would like to thank all of our donors for visiting and supporting St. Joseph’s. It means a lot to our Lakota students and the school.

“He is my refuge and my fortress, My God; in him will I trust”

Developing a greater sense of pride in Native American heritage and culture

While much of the country celebrated Columbus Day yesterday, South Dakota celebrated Native American Day. We had a full school day, but all the classrooms had special lessons to help our Native American students develop a greater sense of pride in their heritage and culture. As students walked into the building they were smudged with the smoke from sage. They then participated in a Four Directions prayer service in the school gym to begin the day with a good spiritual grounding.

Our students took part in Lakota hand games, drumming and singing while their opponents tried to win wooden counting sticks while guessing which hand held the winning wooden dowel. In the old days, bones were used in this game. As our Lakota students learn the rules and strategies better, they can participate in contests against other schools.

We have an Artist in Residence working with our kids this week. His expertise is in brass instruments and the kids were thrilled and awed when he brought out a tuba and let a few of them try. They were blown away (figuratively)!

Four students and one teacher from our sister school in Handrup Germany arrived today. They will spend the next two weeks with us in a cultural exchange. The German students are the ones who hosted our students in their homes last summer, and I saw hugs and handshakes and joyful reunions all around. They will get to experience what it is like to live in St. Joseph’s homes and travel around the state to learn some history and culture of the Lakota people.

My day was enriched by two visits from donors passing through on their way to the Black Hills for vacation. One couple was from Virgina Beach, and I had time to take them into the school and let them see some of our young scholars in action. The second couple came from Youngstown, Ohio, and I met them in the chapel on my way to community prayer. We talked about the symbolism of the artwork in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel.

I met the crew moving all our artwork into the newly completed storage facility at our Akta Lakota Museum. The curator from one of the state museums said we have a wonderful facility that will preserve our arts and artifacts well. The large back room is starting to come to life as more paintings, sculptures, arrowheads, beaded medallions and countless other treasures add color and texture to the shelving and storage areas.

Our students responded well to our first fire drill of the fall, even when the fire crew blocked three of the regular exits and they had to scramble to figure out an alternative. That’s so necessary if there is a real fire. Dave Z., our new Cultural Associate, uses a wheel chair and had to get creative when his regular ground floor exit was closed. This just reinforced the emphasis we’ve put on making all the older buildings on campus more handicap accessible over the past few years.

Our safety and security committee meets once a month to review drills and other issues. Living in a very rural area, wild animals become an issue, and lately we’ve had too many critters on campus. The deer that graze on our grass, and the wild turkeys that waddle around add charm to the campus. But we’ve also had lots of skunk encounters. Besides the smell, rabies is a concern. One of the sheriff’s deputies is also a trapper, and he’s helping us out. This week we removed five skunks, a possum and three cats. A farm family readily accepted the cats to help control their own little critter population.

Guest Blogger: Peggy

Greetings!  I am Peggy and I am a fourth grade teacher.  I have worked at St. Joseph’s Indian School for about 32 years.  I started in the dorms and, after three years in the dorms, I moved to the school.   I have seen a lot of changes in my years here.  These changes have made life and education for the students much better.

When I first came, we had 40-60 kids in a dorm setting.  Now, each of St. Joseph’s 19 homes has 12 students.  Not only does this make things easier to handle, but more time is spent meeting the students’ needs.  I remember my first Christmas here; we had to really scrape to find enough toys to give the kids even one gift.  Many were missing pieces, but the kids were appreciative.  Now, our benefactors bless the children with many nice things all year long.  I am always amazed by the generous gifts we receive.

Our classrooms also used to be 25 students and up.  We are now blessed, even a little spoiled, to have 12 students per classroom.  This helps us work with the student’s individual needs.  There are times I feel overwhelmed by 12 students, but quickly remind myself how it used to be.  State and Federal standards have changed a lot about the way we teach.  While at times it is frustrating, I know that following these standards will give our students the education they need to compete in our ever-changing world.

When I first arrived, my living quarters were on campus in what is now the Health Center.  The Lakota Homes were an empty field, and classes were held in what is now the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center.  Sometimes, I am amazed at all the changes in my lifetime here!  One memory of my first year is having to pick sand burrs out of the football field on our time off.  I remind fellow employees that there are still a few of us here that did that, and they need to thank us!  🙂

Each day, I have students begin by writing in their journals.  They are asked to write at least two things they are thankful for.  There are days that it is hard for all of us, but it shouldn’t be.  My classroom faces the Missouri River.  I remind them; we can look out our window and have plenty to be thankful for.  Not everyone is blessed to have such beauty in their sight every day.  I want the students to be able to see good in every day, no matter what they are facing.  Many times, it a good lesson for this teacher to remember as well!  My class has done a very good job at with their thankful journals this year.

The fourth and fifth graders got a new Science series this year, called Science Fusion.  I am excited to work with this new and updated Science series.  It blends so well with the skills we are teaching in Math and Reading!  I have always found that fourth graders really like Science.  Hopefully with this new series, we can keep that excitement alive.

I hope everyone is enjoying fall.  It’s my favorite time of year.  I miss the Ohio falls and colors, but have found South Dakota to have their own colors and beauty.  I hope, as with my students, you can find things in your everyday lives to be thankful for.

Guest Blogger: Joe

Hi!  My Name is Joe I am the Pastoral Care Associate. This is my first year here at St. Joseph’s.  Part of my job entails teaching some of the religious education classes along with Clare, the Co-Director of Pastoral Care.  The other part of my job includes going into the homes and assisting houseparents with spiritual development for our Native American students.

Being right out of college and growing in my faith life, I have been praying and reflecting about what led me to St. Joseph’s Indian School. Over the past few weeks, I have been given a few answers to this question and would like to share a couple of examples.

Every morning when I get to school I recite a prayer from a small prayer-book that includes verses and devotions. The other day the verse was Proverbs 3: 5-6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Later in the day, I realized that this verse was setting the stage for me to gain insight about my position here at St. Joseph’s.

After lunch, the fifth grade students came into my class.  They were acting about how you would imagine fifth graders would act right after recess. It took some time for the class to calm down.  As class began, I told them that we were going to be talking about Creation and how God created everything for us.

I was reading out of Genesis when verse 26 came up,

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

One student raised his hand.

“So God made us to look like Him?”

I responded by saying,

“Yeah, God made us in His likeness. Isn’t that crazy?”

Another and went up.

“Why would God make us in His image?”

I replied by saying,

“God loves us so much that he wanted us to be like Him and to love each other.”

I looked around the room to see some students nodding their heads as if they understood. There were a few students that seemed to be grasping this concept.  That gave me a good feeling.

The next class that came in was the first grade class. They always come in with a lot of energy.  I read them stories of Jesus and how He lived his life and how He wanted us to live our lives.

A first grader then asked,

“How did Jesus die?”

You have to remember that most of these first graders don’t know much about Jesus.

I told the young boy that it was a great question.

“Jesus died on a cross,” I said.

He then said,

“Why did He die?”

I responded with,

“Jesus loved us so much that He died for our sins.”

Another student then said,

“He died for us?”

I replied,

“Yeah, Jesus died for you because He loved you so much.”

I then asked the students how they felt about someone dying for them. The boy who asked the question then said,


Other first graders then said they too loved Jesus Christ.

Later, as I reflected on the day I realized how the verse I read in the morning spoke to me and how God was working through me. I remembered how the fifth graders were amazed that we were made in the likeness of God, and how the first graders were loving Jesus.  I have to admit, it put a smile on my face.  It made me realize how lucky I am to be here in an amazing community with incredible children.

God is truly great!