The last gasp of summer

Since our students live on campus, we have school on many of the federal holidays, but Labor Day is the last gasp of summer, and it was a day for fun and relaxing. All the Native American students on campus were invited to walk downtown for a matinee movie. Temperatures hovered around 95 degrees and we worked up a sweat. Everyone was glad to come into the air-conditioned theater and have a pop and bag of popcorn waiting for them. The movie itself was rather silly, but I enjoyed watching the kids laugh and enjoy themselves.

Afterwards, while we walked home, second grader Araya asked me,

“So are you really the boss of all St. Joe’s?”

“Yes, I suppose I am. How do you think I’m doing?”

“Not very well!”

Surprised to hear that response I asked,

“Not very well! What do I need to do better?”

“You’re too nice to everyone. If you want to be a real boss you have to yell more and get things done,” she explained.

While students have a lot of wisdom and insight, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on my management style.

We ended the day with a cookout in Wisdom Circle, and had a chance to shoot baskets, toss around a football and slap away at the tetherball.


Guest Blogger: LaRayne

Two Native American girls take a break from powwow practice!
Laurissa and Shawnna take a break from powwow dance practice to smile for the camera!

We are all looking forward to hosting many visitors and friends at our 36th annual St. Joseph’s Indian School Powwow! We are busy having dance practices with St. Joseph’s students.  To date, we have around sixty kids who plan on dancing at our annual powwow.  This number always increases as powwow nears.

The favorite style for the girls is fancy shawl and the boys like grass the best. The dances look simple and easy, but when it comes to being judged at the powwow, there are several elements that come into play.  Not only the foot and body work, but hands, head and accessories also play a part in the judging process.  Having beadwork on one’s regalia is also a plus for the judge’s eye.

Because many of our Native American students only dance at our powwow, it is a challenge to convince them that they must “showcase” themselves to the judges in order to gain points.  All in all, it is a fun time practicing and dancing at our annual powwow.

Our staff are also preparing for powwow.  This is one organization that comes together for one of our many great events of the year.  It is great to see staff, families and our students along with the community, friends and donors share in a great cultural experience.

Reconnecting with the Native American youth

Since the high school students have returned, I’ve tried to spend some time in their homes, catching up on their summer activities and looking ahead to what they hope to accomplish this year. Since school is just beginning and there’s not yet a lot of homework or ballgames, it’s a good time to catch more of the students at home.

The other night at Hogebach Home (HS girls) we enjoyed a home cooked meal around a full table, with no one having to rush off. Erika, one of our seniors, was at the kitchen counter with job applications from four different fast food restaurants and two retailers in town. She is ambitious about trying to find a part-time job that will help with extra-curricular expenses now and begin to put some money away for college.

Another one of the students was feeling very overwhelmed thinking of all that she had to accomplish between now and graduation. Our houseparents and counselors are aware of such feelings and support our students through it all, encouraging them to work at projects slow and steady, in manageable chunks.

Our powwow committee had its first full meeting of the year. We’ve been doing this for 36 years, and have the routine down pretty good. When Tom, our head of facilities, was asked during the maintenance report/ update if he had any concerns, he simply said, “I hate to brag, but our guys got it all covered.” And they do. It takes a huge amount of work and lots of cooperation from every department on campus. It is a special duty and definitely worth the effort for staff, students and our visitors.

With all our Native American students now back, we enjoyed an opening school liturgy and picnic. Our picnic pavilion is still filled with furniture from our remodeling projects, so we decided to hold it in the dining hall. With the temperature at 92 degrees the air-conditioned area definitely worked out better. Some of the homes did choose to eat outside on the picnic tables. Seeing the students in small groups of about 8 to a table gave me the chance to walk around and visit. Between seeing students at school, church, in the homes and on the playground, it reinforces my memory and makes it easier to learn who each of the new kids are.

At school the 1st graders are still learning the basics. Teachers have their own system to get them to line up and move to a different activity, be it art, recess, lunch or Native American Studies. But it takes a while for them to settle down and they take a lot more time to get between point A and B. Given time and practice, they’ll soon settle into the routine.

The construction at the Akta Lakota Museum took an interesting turn as the workers used a crane to install the granite slabs that will be part of the water wall in the Medicine Wheel Garden. We hope that by the end of the month all the outside work will be completed.

Guest Blogger: Julie H

Over the last few weeks, St. Joseph’s campus has been noisy with construction.  But campus has begun to ring with a new and happy noise… The noise of students returning to campus!!  I had the opportunity to visit many of the students I work with over the summer and most of them are ready to come back to campus and go back to school.  What a great thing to hear!  The students are excited to return and staff is just as excited to see them.

I have worked at St. Joseph’s Indian School for close to 11 years.  I have often been asked “What brought you to St. Joseph’s Indian School?” or “Why have you stayed at St. Joseph’s Indian School?”  The answer is really pretty simple.  I came to St. Joseph’s Indian School because I was excited about the opportunity to work with Native American youth.  I have worked with kids since I was in college and that is where I found my niche.  I love working with kids.  So the opportunity to work with Native American youth was something I just could not pass up.

Why have I stayed?  Well, that answer is pretty simple too.  What brings me back to St. Joseph’s Indian School, as well as most staff you will ask, year after year, is the students and the families I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with.  I have the opportunity, each year, to work with some of the greatest kids on the planet.  They are creative, fun, out-going, resilient and all around good kids.

I grew up in a wonderful environment and I feel God has called me to help be a part of the great environment we offer the students and families we work with here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  Every day is not great, sometimes our students struggle, but being able to be a positive role model and helper for our students and families, humbles and honors me.

As we come to the close of summer, I would ask for prayers for our students and their families, as well as the staff of St. Joseph’s Indian School, as we return to school.  We will all keep you in our thoughts and prayers as well!  Have a wonderful rest of the summer and if you are ever in the area, stop by and say hello!


Family Service Counselor

Guest Blogger: Aaron

My name is Aaron and I have the most interesting job on campus (in my humble opinion) and if you read this, I feel you will agree by the end. I am the videographer here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. My job is to make short videos that tell the stories of our students and campus events. I consider it an immense privilege and responsibility to be handed the task of telling another’s life story.

The balance of a story involved in this job would surprise most, as even I was unaware that it would become my biggest hurdle. What do I mean? The high-dynamic relationship between such young kids’ trials and their victories propositions me with a critical decision. If the story focuses on the blunt reality of their hardships, I fear coming across exploitive. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, these kids’ stories NEED to be told and people need to realize the truth of just how amazingly difficult their lives are. How disclosing should one be? Long answer made short…I let the kids and families obviously tell the story, not me, and my job then becomes to make sure it is captured and edited in the most honoring way and approved by them before sharing.

An outsider cannot be motivated to help unless a problem is announced…but to obtain the proportionate amount of help needed to match the gravity of the situation requires some very tender information to be publicized. Striking this appropriate balance is a daily decision I do not take lightly. These students have a huge chunk of my heart and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. Our campus is a family covered by prayer and protected by the help of donors all over the world. It is the most diverse, yet harmonious organization of which I am aware.

Watch some of the videos representing St. Joseph’s Indian School now!

Guest Blogger: Frank

My name is Frank and I am the Residential Coordinator for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade community, which means I supervise the houseparents who work in those homes. I have worked with the Native American students here at St Joseph’s for the last four years.

It is summer and, in between new carpet and paint in the school and the rest of construction going on around campus, my coworkers and I made good progress getting prepared for the next school year, which is fast approaching! The other coordinators and I have worked this summer updating the rules, mapping out enrichment lessons for the year and doing some general long-term planning for the residential department here at St. Joseph’s.

Today, I have been working on a slide show for the All Staff Meeting in August, which shows all we have done in the last year. “All Staff” refers to the date all the staff come back from summer and get ready for the school year with meetings and prep time in the homes or classrooms. As I browse our photos, I am amazed by how much we accomplished in the last year. From powwow to graduation, there is much that fills the year!

Summer isn’t dull by any means, but is not as fast paced as the regular school year. This summer I have been supervising the summer home for the last three weeks. Boy have they been busy!

The home has been fishing in the river, taking hikes, bike riding and going to school half days. They have also taken a few trips around the state to see the sites of South Dakota. One of the bigger trips has been to the Black Hills. Houseparents took students all over the Hills! They were able to visit Custer State Park and go swimming at Evan’s Plunge in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Over the 4th of July, students spent the day along the Missouri river fishing, cooking out and enjoying the water.

The students’ smiles are big and broad when we talk about the trips and other things they have done over the summer. Those smiles make planning a trip worth it for the houseparents. It can be a challenge to travel with so many kids, and expenses are always a concern.

But, the most important outcome for the students after these trips is they learn about the world around them by experiencing it firsthand. Trips away from St. Joseph’s campus also give them a chance to practice their social skills. This is the best learning opportunity we can provide to them, and we’re so grateful to be able to do it.

The summer home closes this week, and students will return to their families for the remainder of the summer. School starts again on August 13!

I am often asked why I work at St. Joseph’s. The easy answer is that I believe in the mission of the school. The long answer is I am from the Indian reservation and I have seen firsthand how tough life can be for the youth and families there.

St. Joseph’s provides hope to the families that their children will have a better outcome in adulthood than they did. Helping families work toward achieving this is an honor; I am privileged to have the opportunity to help in some small way. I am always thankful to our tiyospaye extended family – who supports our mission in so many ways and want to take this opportunity to say thanks. Without your support we couldn’t affect change in the ways we do for the students and their families!

Thanks for all you do!
Have a great summer.

Guest Blogger: Shana

Cante wasteya nape ciyuzapeloI take your hand in friendship.

This is a common Lakota greeting; the literal meaning is “With a good heart I take your hand.” My name is Shana and I’m the High School Residential Director.

This summer is going by fast as we’ve had four of our five high school homes open and fully operational with 41 high school students on campus! High school students choose to remain on our St. Joseph’s campus so they can either work a summer job, take driver’s education class or participate in our Freshman Transition Summer Program.

Thankfully it’s not all work – students get to relax, take shopping trips, go to the movies or swim at Chamberlain’s city pool or public beach area. Students remain connected with family and sometimes get checked out by their parent or guardian so they can attend family functions or visit a family member in the hospital.

There’s never a dull moment on our campus!

We have 19 upcoming freshmen in our Freshman Transition Summer Program. These students were able to meet their future high school teachers, take a trip to visit Mitchell Vo-Tech, Oglala Lakota Community College and tour the Badlands on their way to visit the Red Cloud Indian School Art Show. This three-week camp is full of both education and transition activities in order to get them prepared for the challenges of their first year in high school – and beyond.

The transition program ends Friday with a Parent Luncheon. Here, we will review the changes the students will face in high school and the differences in our high school residential program from our elementary residential program. Everyone enjoys pizza, and then the students are able to give their parent or guardian a tour of their new St. Joseph’s high school home.

All the students will then return in August, either a week before school starts so they can begin sports practices with their Chamberlain athletic team, or return two days prior to the first day of school for our Student Orientation.

Our high school summer programs don’t end in July; we have three students participating on our Summer Transitional Living Program starting on June 22 through the end of July.

Two of these students are currently in Germany with two St. Joseph’s chaperones and two other St. Joseph’s students as part of our Germany Exchange Program with our sister school in Handrup, Germany. They will spend two and a half weeks learning about the German culture, giving presentations to Handrup students about their Lakota and American culture and, of course, doing some sightseeing. The Handrup students will then take a trip to the USA and come visit us here at St. Joseph’s Indian School in October so they can learn more about American and Lakota culture. It’s been a great learning experience for both staff and students.

These are not the only St. Joseph’s students who are able to travel during their summer vacation. One of our graduating seniors was awarded the Davis-Bahcall scholarship. Erin will spend one week digging deep into the science and engineering that exists at the Sanford Underground Laboratory in Lead, South Dakota. She will spend three weeks studying modern physics at Princeton University in New Jersey under world-renowned scholars and researchers. She will also travel to research laboratories in Europe to experience the world of modern scientific research.

We are very proud of Erin’s accomplishments and know she’ll succeed next year as she begins her college career.

One of our upcoming seniors was accepted into College Horizons, this is a six-day “crash course” in preparing for college. Aaron will learn about a broad variety of colleges and universities, and establish personal relationships with admission representatives and college counselors. At each site, 100 students from across the nation work with over 70 expert college counselors and college admission officers to help students learn how to fill out college applications, including essays and prepare for college. We hope Aaron has a great experience – congratulations!

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer as much as we are!

Pilamayathank you,


Guest Blogger: Julie H.

And the summer begins…

Eight grade graduation at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Jarrad and Fr. Steve at this weekend’s eight grade graduation ceremony.

On May 25th, 2012, St. Joseph’s Indian School was proud to watch 21 eighth grade students process into Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel and graduate from eighth grade.  It was a wonderful day, full of celebration.  We, the staff of St. Joseph’s Indian School, are always humbled and honored and to be able to spend such a special day with our students and their families.  While it was a bit cool, the day went off without a hitch and the graduation ceremony was truly lovely.

So what does it mean to graduate from eighth grade?  For many of our Native American students, they will return to St. Joseph’s Indian School in the fall to be a part of our High School program.  For others, they will begin a new journey in a new place.  No matter where they are going, it is a new chapter for our eighth grade students as they begin their high school career.  Some are nervous, some are excited, some a bit scared, but in my opinion, all of them are ready to take on this new challenge.

For those returning to St. Joseph’s Indian School this fall for the high school program, they will come and spend three weeks on campus, beginning on May 28, 2012, to go through our transition program which will help get them ready to attend Chamberlain High School this fall.  It is just a preview of what they will be experiencing at a new school.  The students will get to meet some of the Chamberlain High School teachers, tour the Chamberlain High School, and begin to the learn ropes of being a freshman.  It is a great introduction to what they can expect this fall.

While the eighth grade students are preparing for the fall, the Clinical Services Department is doing the same.  This summer, the Clinical Services Department will spend a great deal of time traveling.  What do we do while we are traveling?  We visit our current students and their families and we work on admissions for the fall.  Part of the admissions process is to interview the student and their families to learn a bit more about them and to see if their needs can be met by St. Joseph’s Indian School.  It is a great time to start building relationships with new students and families.  Traveling to see our current students and their families is just another part of building relationships with those already a part of St. Joseph’s Indian School as well.

While summers can be a bit quiet around St. Joseph’s Indian School, there is always someone around, so if you are in the area, make sure and stop by to see us!  We are always willing to give a tour, talk about what we do and share what a great place St. Joseph’s Indian School is.  So come and see us, you are always welcome!

Julie H.
Family Service Counselor

Guest Bloggers: Jennie & Sarah

Hi, I’m Sarah and I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 11 years.

And I’m Jennie; I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 17 years.

We’d like to give you an inside look into one of the biggest days here at St. Joseph’s: 8th Grade Graduation. Continue reading to hear about our exciting day!

St. Joseph's Indian School's graduating class of 2012.
Congratulations graduating class of 2012!

As the year comes to an end, the eighth graders become extremely excited, but also anxious.  They are anticipating their eighth grade graduation and all of the banquets, ceremonies, and special gifts that go along with it.  Along with all of these great things, there can also be some nervousness for our Native American students.  It may be the students are envisioning their first day of high school at a new school, or they may still be unsure of where they want to go to high school.  This is my seventh year of eighth grade graduation.  One would think I would be used to this chaotic order of the end of the year… However, I too, as an adult, still get caught up in the excitement and anxiety.

St. Joseph’s does something special for our kids in these last few days.  We offer them what we call our Eighth Grade Retreat, where all eighth graders spend some time together, along with a few staff, and discuss high school and the future.  We reinforce what a wonderful time of their life they have ahead of them, but also that they may experience struggles along this way.  We encourage these students and remind them that, during those times of trouble, they must remain confident in themselves, keep their faith in God strong, and also that they can lean on their St. Joseph’s family.  We then give students special letters that have been written for them from the staff and faculty of St. Joseph’s.  These letters are a surprise to the students.  Sometimes the letters bring tears and sometimes they bring laughs, but most of all they offer the students support.  They show someone here at St. Joseph’s will continue thinking of them even though they may not see the student as often.

The students have an opportunity to say, “Thank you” to family and friends.

The day continues on with a pizza lunch, where staff are invited to give their congratulations to the graduates and a trip to the movie theatre with their fellow eighth grade classmates.  The day is full of emotion.  I have asked students in the past what their favorite part of the day was.  Most students respond with reading the letters.  For me, this affirms the purpose of the retreat and most definitely the personal letters to the students.  It validates the time spent doing them and most of all I go away feeling as though I have given the students my best.  I’ve taught them Science, I’ve attempted to teach them social skills, but most important of all I’ve told them I care.

Then on Friday the big day is finally upon us!  Students are with their families and friends in the morning getting dressed up, sharing breakfast and having pictures taken.  They report to the chapel around 10:45 am for final instructions and line-up in preparation for the 11 am start.  This is a fun time as the students are excited and nervous and are just enjoying the moment.  Once the actual graduation begins there is some nervousness as they walk down the aisle in front of family, friends and staff.  The students generally relax once every one is in and seated and the actual ceremony begins.  The students participate by doing the prayers of petition, thanking our guest speaker and reading a friendship poem usually written by one of our eighth graders.

Their faces truly begin to beam when it is time to receive their eighth grade certificate.  Again the nerves show a bit as they walk up in front of everyone and pose for a picture but the pride is evident.  Next the Rose Ceremony, a favorite time for our students, begins.  They are given two roses which they present to their families as a thank you for all of their support and love throughout the years.  They also write thank you notes to family and staff that are delivered during this time as well.  Then the most fun moment of all is the slide show.  Each student is represented by baby pictures progressing through their eighth grade graduation picture and then they personally share their favorite memories in a short video clip.  The students then proceed to the receiving line where everyone greats them with congratulations and good luck!!

Family and friends congratulate the recent graduates.

Our students then officially begin their transition home and onto the next steps into their futures.  This is a very bittersweet time for all of us who work with these students.  We are so very proud and excited for each of them but a little saddened as we know we will need to let go as they move on.

It is truly our pleasure to be a part of these young lives and appreciate the families giving us the opportunity to Serve and Teach, Receive and Learn.  Honestly, it’s the greatest gift in the world! 🙂

Authors of their own destiny

Graduation packed our chapel with students, families and our staff. When St. Joseph’s only went up to eighth grade, several traditions were started to make a big deal about this level of graduation. Now, we tell students we hope this is the first of several graduations, but we still celebrate with lots of pomp and circumstance. Twenty-one young men and women proudly walked down the aisle of the chapel, while their houseparents read a brief bio of their home and tribe, favorite memories of St. Joseph and future plans. Most (18 or 19) will stay with us next year and continue in Chamberlain High School.

Marcel Felicia at St. Joseph's Indian School's graduation.
Marcel Felicia congratulating one of the recent graduates.

Marcel Felicia, who graduated in the same place in 1975, was our graduation speaker. He just completed a Master’s degree in Public Health Administration.

He told the Native American students that while there are a lot of chapters of their book of life yet to be written, they are in large part authors of their own destiny.

The next chapters depend on the choices they make, so he urged them to make good and wise ones. Due to generosity of donors, we had scholarship money available to help Marcel further his education. He told me that it had long been a dream, but the scholarship helped make that dream a reality.

A candle burned on the altar, symbolizing our many donors whose generosity makes a good education here possible. We ran an internet campaign where folks could light a candle for their hometown and include an inspirational message of support to our students. When I last checked, something like 3,400 people from across the country had logged in with heartfelt messages of congratulations!

A slide show montage of students’ childhood pictures brought back memories. When I first started at St. Joseph’s this group of youngsters was in the first grade. One student has no childhood pictures from early years, which is sad. We put together happier memories of his school days here.

Native American student saying, "Pilamaya - thank you!"
“Pilamaya – thank you – for making a difference in my life!”

Each student passed out two roses and several cards to family or staff members who have made a big difference in their lives. I’m always touched to see one of our teachers, counselors or houseparents who frequently are the recipient of one of the roses because of their care and guidance.

I enjoyed meeting and celebrating with the students families. Some have been very involved in campus activities, but some I met for the first time. I hope to see all of them throughout the high school years, and especially in another celebration four years from now.