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.
Our school gym was filled with our Native American students competing in the annual Spelling Bee. We have two sections of each grade, so earlier competition produced the three best spellers in each class. Fr. Anthony and I were the official word readers, and alternated between the grades. Spelling Bees tend to throw in some obscure and complicated words, some of which I had no clue what they meant or how to pronounce them. I was glad that Scripps sends along a definition and pronunciation guide. A few of the grades were quickly decided, but some went back and forth for many rounds. I felt sorry for the kids who knew how to spell the words but froze up in front of the crowd. A few of the younger students got a case of the giggles, which made it hard for them to concentrate. We cheered everyone on, win or lose. The winners now advance to the regional competition at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.
I wandered around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus this morning checking out our building projects. Workers placed the 65 foot wooden beam on top of the Akta Lakota Museum expansion. Our own facilities crew is making steady progress on the Stevens and Matthias Home remodeling. One home is ready for the ceramic tiles to be laid in the bathroom and kitchen area. Even our heavy equipment garage is getting an upgrade – finally insulated after all these years. It will make it much easier to get the snow plow and tractor fired up on frigid mornings when they are most needed.
The Hogebach Home (high school girls) eat in shifts because everyone gets home from school, practice and work at different times. The houseparents filled me in on their comings and goings. As the students came home, I had a few moments to ask how each one was doing. Some of the students share readily and talk about many things. Others keep more to themselves. I try to engage them in topics I think they might want to share, listen attentively when they do speak and patiently accept the quiet when they don’t feel like saying much.
Today was mostly a meeting day. I began with the monthly reports from all the Development Office managers. Our use of media and technology changes at such a rapid pace these days. What fascinated me the most was the suggestion that we move toward having PURLS (personalized URLs) on our website, so when people visit us online, the kinds of stories and information they will see can be personalized. We have some creative, hard-working people in that part of campus, and I’m proud of the initiatives and forward ways of thinking they bring to work each day.
I walked over to the Akta Lakota Museum for our bi-weekly construction update. I imagine that sometimes meetings between architects and builders can get contentious, but ours have been working very well together. The change orders have been small, and work is steadily moving along. Right now it’s mostly welding, which doesn’t show up as big progress. But it’s like school for our kids. You have to get the basics down well, in order to move ahead later.
My management team discussed next week’s Catholic Schools Week and the presentation of our new strategic plan. (Read more here about last year’s Catholic School’s Week at St. Joseph’s Indian School.) We’re also looking at budgets and trying to prioritize capital expenses for next year, deciding what we can do and what has to wait.
When you’re a kid and don’t have to worry about shoveling snow or driving to work on icy roads, winter weather can be a lot of fun. The snow we did get is starting to melt, but made the slopes very slippery, and the kids were out in big numbers after school with sleds. Some dug tunnels through the big mounds of snow piled up by our grounds crew or played King of the Hill.
The Perky Home (4th-5th grade boys) invited me to supper. Afterwards I tried my hand (well, actually my foot) at hacky sack, but am definitely not limber enough to keep it going very long. What I was better at was helping some of the boys practice for next week’s spelling bee. In reading the words, I realized that there is a lot of vocabulary that our students don’t yet know.