Challenging our youth to excel

After two days away from the office, today was one of those days of catching up with paperwork, but more importantly getting around campus and seeing what everyone has been up to.

After school, I saw lots of the younger kids from the Benedictine Homes out riding bikes and jumping rope. The junior high girls at the Pinger Home had raked the falling leaves into piles. At first I admired their willingness to tidy the yard up, but when Mailana surprised me by jumping up from underneath the pile, I realized they had ulterior motives. But, play and fun is a worthwhile motive too!

I shot some baskets at Fisher Home (6th – 8th grade boys) and stayed for supper. The talk around the supper table was mostly about football, but I did get them to talk occasionally about school and family and other topics.

Since I enjoy sports, it is a nice ice breaker, but I want to get to know more about the students than who their favorite team is.

Tonight all four high school homes gathered for the midterm GPA (grade point average) announcement. Each quarter, we award a traveling trophy to the home with the highest average, and for a full year the Hogebach Home (junior & senior girls) have had a lock on the glittery hardware. In a big upset, the Sheehy boys pulled ahead 3.28 to 3.26, and will have bragging rights for at least a few months. I must say however, that the girls are now highly motivated to reclaim the prize.

Overall, our high school homes GPA is up almost .50 points over last year. They need to keep it up until the end of the semester of course, but this is a good start. We’re trying to create a school culture where good students are not made fun of, but kids are striving to do well. That has taken some doing, but hopefully we’re moving in the right direction. In December, there is also an academic competition against other Native American schools at the Lakota Nations Invitational, and we’ve got more students applying for that team than ever before. Thanks to our houseparents, tutors and counselors for challenging our youth to excel.

Follow God faithfully and serve people generously

Continuing education is important for everyone, no matter what their field or profession. The past two days the Clergy of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota gathered for their annual conference with the Bishop. We also had a speaker who focused on spirituality and the everyday struggles we all go through to turn from evil and do what is right and good. Besides the intellectual and spiritual nourishment, just being together with a group of priests and deacons who are trying to follow God faithfully and serve people generously provides a good sense of support and camaraderie.

We’ve had morning and evening sessions, but free afternoons. Yesterday was  a glorious, sunny day in the low 80’s. To take a break from all the sitting, I decided to enjoy a walk along the river, and I ran into a couple of other priests with the same idea. Fr. Jim and Fr. Tom were wonderful company on a relaxing stroll, with no destination to get to.

The meetings were held just across the Missouri River in Chamberlains’ sister city, Oacoma. This afternoon three of the guys had never seen St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, so I led a tour through. We visited some classrooms and one of the Homes. People get a much better idea about our programs and approach when they can come out and see for themselves. Our staff and students also make good tour guides and helped answer all the questions our visitors asked.

This evening the Knights of Columbus grilled up some good South Dakota beef steaks for us to enjoy.

A series of conversations with young friends

Yesterday was FAST (Families and Schools Together) graduation for 10 families who spent four weekends involved in on campus activities with their children. One of our students’ grandfathers, asked to stand before the crowd gathered in chapel and say a few words. In the old days, boarding schools didn’t involve families much at all, but he is grateful for the way it is now, and how we try to work side by side with families. He also gave a good witness talk about people’s ability to turn their lives around for the good – reminding us that it’s never too late, or too early to start walking on the good path.

I enjoyed the conversations with my 7 and 8 year-old-friends!
I enjoyed the conversations with my 7 and 8 year-old-friends!

After mass today, Mike and Christine, the houseparents of Afra Home (1st – 3rd grade girls) invited me over for brunch. Normally there are a dozen students in the home, but many were checked out and they were down to just three girls for the day – Kyla, Lynaiah and Selesia. While I like to go to the Homes when I’ll catch a majority of the kids there, it was nice being able to sit around one table rather than two, and have a series of conversations with my 7 and 8-year-old friends. I took some time to listen to them read afterwards, before it was time to go outside and play, and enjoy the unseasonable hot weather we’ve been having. It just doesn’t seem like October.

Prayers for the newlyweds

The past two days, I’ve been busy with a task most priests do a lot, but I don’t get involved with too much anymore – a wedding. Six months ago the local parish was in between pastors and since the couple didn’t know which priest would be here now, they asked if I would handle the preparation and the wedding. I knew Nicole as a parishioner in Reliance, just 15 miles west of here, when I was pastor in that area, so I was delighted to be asked.

The wedding rehearsal, went smoothly with even the flower girls and ring bearer handling their responsibilities. When we went for the rehearsal dinner however, the restaurant had forgotten all about the reservation for 30 and really had to scramble. Many people would have been furious, but these two families just made the best of it, ordering drinks and enjoying each other’s company until we were able to get served. I hope that Nicole and Steven can handle many frustrations and setbacks with the same ability to make the best of a bad situation.

The wedding itself was lovely. I particularly enjoyed visiting many of the cousins and neighbors that I hadn’t seen in a while. Congratulations, and prayers for the newlyweds.

I also did my fair share of office work the past two days. Yesterday, as school was about to end, I realized that I’d been so busy at my desk, I hadn’t even seen one student the whole day. I remedied that by standing in the hallway as classes were dismissed and students were heading to their homes. Even if it’s a brief encounter, kids appreciate being greeted by name, and having the chance to show off the drawing they did in art class, or the A they earned on a science project.

Today was also homecoming for Chamberlain High School. When our students make the transition from St. Joseph’s Indian School to the public High School, they generally fit in well and are accepted. Cody, one of our sophomores was recently voted class Vice President, and rode proudly on the Sophomore float. Many of our students put in lots of hours working on the floats and decorating for the dance and other activities. We dismissed our grade school classes a little early this afternoon, so the kids could walk downtown and take in the sights and sounds (and candy tossed to the sidewalks) of the parade.

At the big game, the football team had a one point lead at halftime, but faltered during the second half. Maybe next year!

The old days at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Our Akta Lakota Museum and Historical Alumni Center committee met much of today, making some decisions that keep edging our plans closer to the final stages. Kate, while doing research during the powwow, interviewed several of our returning alumni and we learned many things about “the old days” that are worth remembering and passing along. As alumni know we are gathering data and trying to tell the story of what life has been like at St. Joseph’s Indian School during different eras, many are eager to fill in the details about their experiences.

I spent time with a coloring book and crayons for the first time in ages. Dennis home (1st-3rd grade girls) was having some low-key play time between their Social Skills class and supper, and the houseparents passed out the books. I sat on the couch and shared a box of crayons with Samantha and Pearl. With my under developed artistic skills I’ve not often get complements, but 2nd grader DeOnna praised me for doing such a good job of staying with the lines!

The Home was at the Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park on Monday, and the girls were excited to tell me about their adventures there. Still, with all the magnificent wildlife, natural beauty and other experiences, the universally agreed upon best part of the trip was the chocolate fountain when they ate supper at the Golden Coral. As they get older and look back, I think the buffalo will eventually be a stronger memory than the chocolate!

Join our Tiyospaye Club

A couple from Kansas stopped by the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center and asked about sponsoring a American Indian student. We don’t offer individual sponsorship of the students, if people want to help on a regular basis we have our monthly Tiyospaye Club, where people get a hand written copy of a thank you letter and drawing from a different student each month. One of the keys to our being able to fund a students’ education is that many different people band together. When everyone gives a little, it quickly adds up to a lot.

We are grateful for the generous support we do receive.

Go Braves! The boys at St. Joseph's Indian School played great!
Go Braves! The boys at St. Joseph's Indian School played great!

We played our cross town rival Chamberlain a second day, this time in football. Our boys played good team ball and outlasted the Cubs 22-8. It’s tough for us to beat Chamberlain, and while we are 3-1, it’s one of the main games that a successful season hinges on. We have bragging rights for this year anyway. I cheered for both teams since we have many staff children and grandchildren playing against our teams. It’s my hope that next year many of these 8th graders on both sides of the ball will be bonded together as friends and teammates as our students move into the Chamberlain High School program.

Pride in their Lakota (Sioux) heritage

We were visited by consultants from a group called Child Trends to help us look at our programs and how we try to measure the positive impact we have on our Native American youths’ lives. We keep track of lots of statistics, but grade point average, attendance and the number of times called to the principal’s office don’t give an adequate picture of the well-rounded approach we are trying to offer. We try to educate for life, body, mind, heart and spirit, so need to find ways to see if we are successful in all those areas. Many seem quite intangible. We also had good discussion about the importance of culture and in particular, giving our students a sense of pride in their Lakota (Sioux) heritage. They will spend a couple of days interviewing staff and analyzing programs. I am interested in seeing what some of their observations and recommendations are.

Bump, set, spike! The St. Joseph's girls did great!
Bump, set, spike! The St. Joseph's girls did great!

Our girls 7th and 8th grade volleyball team played matches against Chamberlain this evening. Though it was as “away” game the bus trip only took about 5 minutes. We came out on the losing end of two close matches that went the full 3 sets before a winner was decided. Our teams played hard and showed good sportsmanship.



Lifeblood of the Native American people

We had a smaller crowd in church today. The high school boys had a free Saturday night so decided to attend church downtown last night so they could sleep in today. The girls of the William (4th-5th) and Dennis (1st-3rd) Homes are on a field trip to Custer State Park to take in the annual Buffalo Roundup. It is amazing to see over a thousand head of those magnificent animals come running down the prairie hillsides. Tatanka was always the lifeblood of the Native American people when they hunted on the plains.

After church, three of our staff were going out for coffee and invited me to come along. Often, I stop in at one of the students’ homes, but this was a nice change of pace, to chat about a wide range of subjects. Often at work we talk business, but it’s always interesting to hear of people’s varied backgrounds, interests and experiences. One thing that helps St. Joseph’s Indian School be so solid, is our committed, experienced and caring staff.

One of our staff was put to the test this afternoon. When I stopped in at the Rec Center, a lone 3rd grade boy was sitting in the middle of the gym floor, refusing to budge after all the rest of his home headed back for supper. Sometimes our Lakota (Sioux) students don’t cope well with stress, and can have tantrums or exhibit oppositional defiant behavior. Houseparents, teachers and counselors know those times will come, and the situations call for lots of patience and understanding in order to get to the root of what is really bothering the student.

FAST weekend at St. Joseph’s Indian School

I’m nursing a bad fall cold, so yesterday was a day to stay home and rest, read and watch some TV. I took a two hour afternoon nap, which I must have needed. I did go to the office to pick up the mail and found a wonderful homemade thank you card signed by all our student powwow dancers. They are grateful for all our staff did to make the experience of the  powwow a special time for students and their families.

Today we had ten families on campus for another FAST (Families and Schools Together) weekend. I saw several of our staff and high school students acting as baby sitters out on the playground with all the children. During that time the parent/guardians were having a group session with one of our counselors. The setting gives them a support group as they talk about issues they face in raising their children/grandchildren, and having them be away from home. One thing that is needed is some strong male role models in our students’ lives.

Our staff does most of the work. I just like to stop by and connect with the families and let them know they are welcome here, and we think about them and pray for them and want to partner with them to make life better for the next generation.

It’s football season at St. Joseph’s Indian School

A group of about 15 staff spent the morning in a strategic planning session. We have done most of the discussion and prioritizing. Next it will go to the Board of Directors in a few weeks to get their input and possible approval. They may also see things we’ve missed, and ask for further work. It has been a good exercise in helping us identify areas we need to shore up and improve.

This afternoon we took bids for our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center expansion and alumni building. The contractors all came very close to what we figured it would cost, and the two lowest bidders actually had the same base bid. It will come down to the three items we asked for options on, and even those figures are very close. We had the ceremonial ground breaking last week at powwow, and are hoping to start the real digging and initial construction in a couple of weeks.

St. Joseph's Indian School's football team won 44-0!
St. Joseph's Indian School's football team won 44-0!

Todd County School visited us for a 7th & 8th grade football game. We have a very athletic group of  8th grade boys who played solidly and won 44-0. Two of our students are already 6’ tall and almost a head above all the rest, with size and strength to match. Like some of our opponents, when I was 13 I was 4’11” and weighted 98 lbs. I can’t imagine trying to stop Dawson or Michael from blitzing! We don’t have many 7th graders on the team, so next year might be a rebuilding year and payback time.