Staff continue to ready the campus and themselves for our students’ arrival. Teachers have been in classrooms, hanging posters and setting out books and supplies on each desk, which now have student names on them. Houseparents are setting out bedding and making progress charts and decorating homes with signs of welcome. Orientation week is a combination of group sessions to go over important policies like fire safety or pastoral care support. It is also a time for each person to attend to their own area and make sure they have the materials and resources they will need.
I stopped by the school, and found all the 6th-8th grade teachers in the conference room with Scott, one of our family service counselors. One by one, he was doing a file review of each of the 30 boys that he counsels. He tried to visit each one at their home over the summer, and gave updates on how they have been doing. Many of the teachers know the students well already, and could give the new teachers insights into student issues and behavior. We work hard at communicating with each other so we can have a common, helpful approach and plan for each of our students. Later in the year, parents and guardians will be invited to join the group and discuss the needs and progress of their children.
We have two new pastoral care staff, Clare and Joe, that will be teaching religious education and helping with spiritual efforts on campus. Fr. Anthony, our campus chaplain and I met with them to begin discussion of immediate needs and long term considerations. I look forward to seeing what we can develop for both staff and students.
I drove the two SCJ novices to Fort Thompson for evening mass. The church is on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, 25 miles north of Chamberlain. This is James’ very first time in South Dakota, and he gazed out the window at the magnificent view of the Mighty Mo (Missouri River) as it swept through the wide valley far below. Both guys took a lot of pictures along the way. I suggested to the staff here, and the parishioners there, that some day one of these two young men might be working side by side with them.
New staff are continuing their orientation, with everything from how to calm an out of control child to working our email system. One day they had a scavenger hunt to get acquainted with campus and start to find useful and needed things. I hope our new co-workers will feel welcome and an important part of the St. Joseph’s mission. Today the SCJs hosted them for lunch at our house.
As folks finished eating, I asked each person to introduce themselves with a short “job description” of their role. Present among us were houseparents and teachers, custodians, food service worker, an electrician and a bookkeeper. I asked folks who came from a distance how they heard about St. Joseph’s Indian School. Several were from families who supported us with donations, and through the mail have known about the school since they were little. Others saw an ad in their area newspaper, or found job information online. The people who grew up in the area were asked to share a favorite memory of St. Joseph’s Indian School. Two people whose parents worked here fondly remembered the family picnics we have for staff. One woman recalled her own elementary school days when she played basketball and volleyball against our kids. I trust the good spirit of camaraderie and sharing, the hope and enthusiasm they bring will enrich us all.
Fifteen of our staff sat in on a teleconference with a group of researchers. Child Trends conducted interviews with our students and their families and presented their findings. Overall the report was affirming. Like any organization, we look for ways to improve, and there were areas to look at in that light as well.
One area we need to review is our vast array of rules. Students grudgingly admit that the rules are overall a good thing that point them along the right path. Still, few of us really like so many rules. Just because we’ve always done something that way, it’s still worth a fresh look. Celia, one of our residential coordinators pointed out that we have a rule limiting student outgoing long distance calls to the weekend. That was put in place years ago partially because that was when calls were cheapest. Our phone services now costs the same per minute all the time. As we look at improving communication with families, that’s an example of a rule that probably needs to be revamped. While students also complain about homework and house chore rules, those are the kinds of things that we’ll undoubtedly keep in place.