Campus Competitions

Lakota students at St. Joseph’s Indian School participate in the annual spelling bee.
Students participate in the annual spelling bee contest.

We held two competitive events on campus yesterday. The first began at 11:30, when several of our staff squared off in our annual chili/non-chili cooking contest. Three recipes gained a ribbon and bragging rights, but everyone on campus was a winner when we got to sample many tasty efforts. I had 11:30 mass, and by the time I reached the tables at noon the early lunch crowd had polished off the top three pots. But the others I sampled were hearty on a cold day and quite delicious. Human resources pulled out some colorful piñatas and recorded fiesta music set a fun tone. We laughed about the Kleenex on the table for runny noses and the bottles of antacids for those who found the samples to hot. It gave staff from different areas on campus the chance to mingle in a way that doesn’t happen often enough.

Then at 1:00 the real drama began as the top six spellers in each grade (determined by an earlier competition in their classrooms) participated in the annual Spelling Bee. Fr. Anthony and I were the word givers, and alternated between the grades. Some words I was glad when the students asked for a definition, because that enlightened me too! A few of the matches ended quickly. When it got down to the final two in 7th and 8th grade the rounds went on a long time. When one of the students had a chance to win, it seemed they would miss the second word and give their opponent another chance.  The winners now advance to the regional competition in Mitchell.

I was at the Hogebach Home (high school girls’ home) last evening when the phone rang. Trinity answered the phone and once she hung up, broke into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” What happened? – because of dangerous cold and wind chill, Chamberlain Public schools called for a 2 hour late start. Almost every high school kid I know would rejoice with a couple extra hours to sleep in. How cold was it? When the William Home (4th-5th) grade girls walked home from the Rec Center after swimming, their hair was frozen in the time it took to walk 2 blocks.

Since our kids live on campus, and the snow isn’t deep enough to cause problems, we pressed on with our regular school day today.  Recess was indoors. When we get a long stretch of cold I notice the students getting cabin fever, but our weather has had enough ups and downs that they haven’t had to stay inside for more than a couple of days.

We’re working on budgets and had to submit our list of planned capital expenses for fiscal year 2014. Because our staff have so many good ideas for improvements, our wish list is always quite long. Then we have to prioritize and decide what we can afford, what our facilities crew has time to get done, and what is most pressing, especially where safety and preventative maintenance are concerned.  Our costliest projects will be the next phase of our campus drainage upgrade, and the tuck pointing of several of our large older brick buildings. Perhaps the ones I’m happiest to see are the remodeling of the last two homes on our list, Afra (1st-3rd girls) and Raphael (1st– 3rd boys). I know the houseparents who live with the children in those two homes have been envious of the improvements we’ve made to all the other homes, and excitedly await similar upgrades and improvements.

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.

Goodness and generosity every day

Last night Mark at the Rec Center tried a new activity with the fourth and fifth grade boys – water polo!

He used the deep end of the pool and played side to side to shorten the field. The boys learned the basics and enjoyed it, but had to keep asking for subs to come in because they found treading water the whole time and trying to get their arms out of the water for a good shot to be very tiring. I’m sure the houseparents who had to make sure they went to bed at the end of the evening didn’t mind at all. We like to have our Lakota students try new activities; you never know what might catch their passion and interest.

Saturday I was in the office working on weekend liturgy when a call came in from Raphael Home (1st – 3rd grade boys) that a gentleman was looking for someone to donate a picture to. Turns out a hunter from Wisconsin had a beautiful limited edition print of a painting of a white buffalo calf, which has great meaning and sacredness in Lakota culture.  He wanted to know if we had a good home for it. I gratefully accepted the gift, and I showed the boys the image. They liked it so much we decided to let the print make its home in Raphael. People surprise us with their goodness and generosity every day.

Usually when I’m at the Rec Center I see activities for students around the same grade and age. This afternoon as I approached the building I found students from all grades and corners of St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus streaming in. Andy had just announced over the intercom that the prize money for the Halloween costume contest was available to the winners, and they made a beeline for the treasure. It was just a few dollars, but that meant extra treats at the snack bar, or a few bucks to put into their account for later use.

Several homes used today for day trips, while others shot baskets in the gym, tossed footballs around outside, or watched a favorite movie.

Some of God’s magnificent creatures

Michelle and Amber stop for a quick picture!

Last night we returned from donor appreciation luncheons in Boston, Massachusetts. Amber, one of our high school students, had never flown before and thought the experience awesome. She and Michelle spoke before 70 guests on Saturday and 60 guests on Sunday, telling about their time at St. Joseph’s and answering questions about life on St. Joseph’s campus and in their home communities. I admire our students’ ability to overcome their fear of speaking to a crowd, and realize that people are very interested in their story. Our donors asked many great questions to find out more about our school and programs.

One of our guests was a young Native American woman I knew from previous parish work. She didn’t attend St. Joseph’s but is Lakota and from our area. She just moved to Cambridge in July to start a graduate program at Harvard’s School of Education and Leadership. Meeting people like her gives a good example of hope that our students may one day follow.

One woman we met is a member of our Tiyospaye Club, and has faithfully donated $10 a month for many years. She said,

“I am on a fixed income and can only give a little, but your staff makes me feel so special. I wonder how you treat your large donors?”

I was heartened to hear her comments, since we do try to treat everyone with care and dignity. I realize that it’s folks like her who make small, sacrificial gifts that make such a difference in what we are able to do.

We haven’t had many famous donors over the years (though oral tradition here does say John Wayne and Elvis each sent us a little something years ago), but some folks do share a famous name. On Sunday I met one of our friends named James Brown, obviously not the Godfather of Soul who passed away a few years ago. James enthusiastically talked about coming out for our powwow. I encouraged him,

“And when you do, I want to see your best dance moves on the powwow grounds.”

“Of course – my name’s James Brown isn’t it?” he quipped back.

Does anyone in your family share a famous name??

After we arrived on Friday we bought our MTA passes and started exploring the city. One of my favorite folk songs my Uncle Mickey sang to us growing up was the Kingston Trio’s MTA, and I was tickled to see that the passes we bought to navigate the city were called “Charlie Cards.”

The students took in so many sights as we walked the Freedom Trail and toured historic old graveyards. We shopped for souvenirs at Quincy Market and pondered the speeches that once echoed in Faneuil Hall. We found a colorful Farmer’s Market and shared a bag of fresh cherries as we walked the harbor and gazed at tall ships, sailboats, ferries and tankers.

We had a great time on our Duck tour!

After the Saturday luncheons, we went to church at St. Francis Chapel, which is right in the middle of a busy mall – a new and unique experience for those of us from such a rural state. Then Theresa, one of our donors, treated us to tickets on the Ducks, the amphibious army vehicles that drove us along the streets and plunged us into the Charles River for all sorts of different views. The guide was lively and fun, with lots of banter and corny jokes. History can entertain as well as educate.

Getting a chance to boat onto the ocean was the one event on the top of Amber and Michelle’s dream list, so Sunday evening we joined a whale watch sponsored by the New England Aquarium. We saw both humpback and Minke whales, some within 50 yards of our ship. Michelle and Amber had a great spot on the front of the bow and delighted in the breeze whipping through their hair as we motored out to sea. We even saw one breech in the distance, where the whale came all the way out of the water. We had some great looks at some of God’s largest and most magnificent creatures.

Coming back onto campus today, I spent a good deal of time with the 3 M’s (meetings, mail and messages). But I did make it over to school at the end of the day.

The third graders are reading “Sarah Plain and Tall.” As part of vocabulary building and understanding, they were trying to learn about the Flounder and Sea Bass that she was casting for. When the teacher pulled up images from the internet on the smart board, I shared about the whales we had seen.

The third graders were amazed that something living (not like the dinosaurs of old) could still be as big as two classrooms. We also did a little geography lesson as they reviewed what states we had to cross to get to the East coast, and where the oceans are.

Junior high study hall students were working on reading and math. I quizzed students on vocabulary words, and encountered a couple of scientific words that I myself had never heard of, or have surely forgotten in those years since my classes on nuclei.

Sixteen of our 48 high school students hit the tutor’s office last night. One of the rules that students complain about the most is having to turn in their cell phones before they retired to their rooms. Now the rule is that they can keep their cell phones as long as their grades are good and they have fewer than three missing assignments. I overheard students say their goal is to keep the phone the whole year by staying on top of their work from the beginning, which was one reason for the rush to the learning center.

The high school students have the Rec Center to themselves from 8 – 9 p.m., and I joined in playing basketball. I don’t run or jump so well any more, and as I age I’m better at assists than as a scoring threat. But just to keep the defense honest I will drive and put up a shot every now and again. When I hit a layup one of the houseparents chided 6 foot 3 inch Cody,

“You should have swatted it away.”

“I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to do that” grinned Cody.

I think the younger crowd takes it a little easy on me. I worked up a good sweat and hopefully some camaraderie that builds trust with students down the road.

St. Joseph’s Minute to Win it

Tonight the Rec Center hosted a “Minute to Win it” fundraising event to benefit our local Relay for Life Chapter. As a cancer survivor myself (2 years now!) I am grateful for the generous efforts of people in our community in solidarity with those battling the disease. Many of our campus homes baked treats to sell in the concession stand and folks made a free will offering as they came in the door. We had plenty of laughs as students, staff and people from the community competed in fun and silly games.

I arrived in the middle of the competition, and was immediately dragged into a game where I had to bounce a pencil on the eraser end and land it in a plastic drinking glass ahead of me. I astounded myself and the cheering crowd by landing all eight pencils into the containers in under a minute. (Now people know what I truly do in my office all day!) I didn’t fare so well later in trying to slide a cookie from my forehead into my mouth. But, everyone had lots of laughs for a great cause.


Developing healthier lifestyles

At yesterday’s Child Service Meeting, our Rec Center staff gave a presentation on  new programs they are  developing. Besides coordinating the team sports against other schools,  they have a vision about helping  staff and students develop healthier lifestyles.

Mark has become certified in Circular Strength Training, which involves a series of body movements that can be done gently and slowly, but over time provide a great workout. Instead of just telling us about it, he had  us get out of our chairs and walk through the activity with him. I admit  it did help me stay more alert during the meeting  than I normally would have  after just eating lunch.

Our High School Program director, Shana,  gave us an update on her  meetings with the public school administrators. They have been brainstorming on ways to improve the transition for our eighth grade graduates at St. Joseph’s Indian School when they enter Chamberlain High School.

Enrichment activity at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Hello everyone from the Rec Center staff,

John playing a "Minute To Win It" game.
Our American Indian youth love playing these games!

Hey, did you know that on Wednesday nights St. Joseph’s Indian School has a night of activities for the homes called “Enrichment Night?” That’s where we get two homes from each community, for two hours that night and either teach them a new game or revive an old game for fun. We work on teamwork and certain skills. We also have “Enrichment Swims” going on at the same time for different homes.

Most recently, at our 6:00 pm time slot, we had our 1st – 3rd grade homes (Raphael & Afra) for our Enrichment Night Activities. They played a game that some of you might know from TV, “Minute To Win It.”  One game we played was call “Loner” which is when one person has to roll one marble at a time to knock down a pencil standing 15 feet  away in one minute!

Savannah did a good job in the “Bite Me” game and Trinity and Jarrett were excellent in their games as well. Even the houseparents were involved in some of the games as well. Thanks to Aleece, Leonard and Christine and Mike for all their help. We also played, “Stack Attack” and “Movin’ On Up,” which are plastic cup games.

The 7:15 pm time slot was with the 6th – 8th grade homes (Rooney & Fisher) who were involved as well last night. They were involved in a different night of activities. We called them “Tag Games.” “Swatter Tag” was a big hit with Josh and Adrian and the game called “Dead Ant” was a smash with the boys as well. Jeremiah and William were really into the game “Frogger.” These are games that build teamwork and are fun at the same time. Thanks to houseparents Tony and Roman for their help.

Next week for Enrichment activities at 6:00pm, we will have the 4th and 5th grade homes (Cyr and Perky) and at 7:15pm we will have the 6th – 8th grade girl homes (Mathias & Stevens).

Thank you,

Your friends in the Rec Center

Guest blogger: Mike Tyrell

When I came to the office today, I had this note from Mike, our Director of Child Services waiting for me. Since he speaks of lots that’s going on around campus, I thought I’d share this with you.

20 Minutes at the Rec Center

On Saturday morning, I happened to find myself in one of those unique but fun 20 minutes in our rec center.  As I was winding down my workout, a houseparent came into the workout room with one of the boys from his home.  He was working with the student teaching him to properly lift weights.  It was nice to see the mentoring going on and the student following the houseparent’s lead. 

As I finished, I left the workout room, only to find that the Ambrose Home’s students waiting rambunctious to go to wresting practice.  We have not had a wrestling program in a few years and it was their first practice.  The kids and houseparents were waiting at the front door of the rec center as mini-buses moved around outside to pick up the students.  The boys looked eager to get going to Chamberlain’s wrestling room, as we do not have a mat yet for our wresting program. 

I then wandered back into the rec center gym where two houseparent we setting up and Archery course for the students.  Today was the first day of training our students about how to safely shoot a bow and arrow.  The staff, who recently went to be certified in archery training, were eagerly awaiting the student’s arrival.  In talking with the staff, you could tell they were excited. 

As I left the gym, I noticed two student reading books.  Apparently these students were in trouble, and reading was part of their discipline.  I asked what they were reading and one boy showed me the book Prince of Egypt.   I told him he could give me an oral book report sometime.  Both boys were also watching the archery range being set up with great interest.  If this was discipline, they appeared to be having a good time.   

As I was leaving the facility, the second of two rec center staff showed up.  They we looking forward to a busy morning followed by an afternoon of bowling.  As I exited the rec center building, the snow was falling heavily and piling up.  It was surreal as I thought of all that was going on at the rec center and across campus on this cold and snowy, January day.  It also made me thankful for the fact that we are fortunate in what we provide for our students.