Huge grins and a warm handshake

This afternoon was our annual rivalry basketball game with Chamberlain’s 7th and 8th grade teams to earn bragging rights for the year. Both teams play hard to win, but since many play together in our fall intercity basketball league, there is also a good sense of familiarity and friendship. I noticed at the tip-off of the 8th grade game, Michael was jumping against a boy he played on the same team with in the fall. They had huge grins and gave a warm handshake before the competition began.

Chamberlain has a strong group of 7th graders, and easily defeated our crew. In the 8th grade, we have a strong group of boys and definitely had a height advantage. But, the Cubs played good team ball and forced overtime. Our Braves finally won by three. Since it’s really a local game for both schools, we had a great crowd in the stands to cheer the players on. Many of our staff had kids or grandchildren playing for the Cubs, and most of us had to root for all the kids on both sides of the ball.

A reporter from the local newspaper came to interview me about the progress of our Akta Lakota Museum expansion and alumni/ historical center. The workers have lifted the ceiling beams into place and are working on roofing now, so it’s really taking shape. Still, it will take another year plus for the whole project to be completed.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day! At the end of the day our students passed out cards, many store-bought, but a few homemade, to friends and classmates. The boys at Cyr Home baked treats to share with their 4th and 5th grade classmates – yummy and very appreciated!

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, in my spiritual reading, I came across this quote about love from Pedro Arupe, former superior general of the Jesuits:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

In my weekly meeting with Mike, director of Child Services, we discussed our Lakota cultural programming. In our strategic plan we identified the need to add another staff position to complement what we are already doing in this regard. We’re looking at moving forward and hiring someone for next school year. We have begun some good things in terms of dance, drum group and language and see the need for continued staff education and development as well.

At the William Home (4th and 5th grade girls) for supper, I got to meet Chuck, our newest houseparent, who is shadowing Mike and Jessica to learn how we do childcare here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Chuck had his two year old son Izzy with him, and the girls were quite enamored with the little guy. Izzy had a dozen big sisters willing to play and watch after him, and seemed to enjoy the attention.

Student projects doing great

A couple interesting student projects of note. The William Home (4th-5th grade girls) has set a goal this quarter of 10,000 cumulative laps around the gym. Several mornings each week the home gets up early and goes out for a walk and exercise. They are keeping a thermometer on the door to the fitness room and coloring in their progress as they reach each new level. They’ve already passed the 3500 mark!

Gina’s computer class is spending a few minutes each day at the website Free Rice where fun quizzes increase their knowledge, make learning fun and educate them about hunger issue throughout the world. The students were talking about the activity even on the playground, so I knew it was a big hit.

Today was my day to run errands in town, to the bank and county building. While out, I stopped in to check on our folks downtown at our Thrift Store. With February around the corner, they’re redecorating with lots of red clothing for Valentine’s Day. The store is a great service to the community, and a good after school job opportunity for a few of our Lakota students.

St. Joseph's Indian School's cheeleaders.
These girls did a great job cheering on the basketball teams!

I ended the day in the gym, where our 6th-8th grade teams were in action. Besides the players, I cheer for our cheerleaders and encourage them to keep on improving. They had the help of our younger students, the 1st-3rd graders, who make up the pep club. This year they all have matching shirts that are St. Joseph’s basketball-style jerseys. They sure get both enthusiastic and loud when they start cheering. Half way through the games however, the time came for them to leave for supper, homework and bedtime. The gym quieted down considerably, but the action was still close and worth cheering for.

Building trust and comfort

Only some of the Valentine's Day gifts at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Only some of the Valentine's Day gifts at St. Joseph's Indian School.

When I walked over to school today, I was amazed at the pile of balloons, flowers, sweets and other goodies on the secretary’s desk, awaiting delivery to staff and students. Some were expectedly from spouses of our teachers. But many were from families sent to their children, many miles away to help them feel loved and special.

During study hall period at the end of the day, students passed around their Valentine’s Day cards. They also got treats to take home with them. During the school day, we offer fruits or vegetables for healthy snacks. After school, I guess it will be the houseparents who have to deal with the burst of energy from the chocolates and sweettart hearts.

Jim and Marianne have been dedicated donors of St. Joseph’s Indian School for many years. Leonard, one of our houseparents, wrote up their involvement and nominated them as CORE’s (Coalition of Residential Educators) philanthropists of the year. They won the award and will be honored!  Jim and Marianne live in Texas, but are very involved with our Powwow in September and also help in a big way at Christmas time.  I called them to share the good news and thank them again, and they were honored and excited.

When I arrived at Pinger Home (6th-8th grade girls) the students were all outside playing, taking advantage of our February thaw. I wandered around and visited, and ended up tossing a football back and forth with Jessica. She is new this year, and I don’t know her all that well. We didn’t say a whole lot, but tossed the football back and forth quite a while; minutes until we were called in for supper. It’s not always what you say, but what you do that gradually builds trust and comfort, and it felt like I made some small steps with her.

Teach respect and learn values

We hosted a four team 8th grade basketball tournament over the weekend, here in Chamberlain, South Dakota. Our boys gave it a good effort and finished second to Pierre Indian Learning Center. Crow Creek and Todd County also came up to take part. While the basketball action was exciting, my favorite moment came after we finished the first game. Since all the teams had arrived by then, members of our drum group took center court and sang the flag song. Many of our singers were still in their basketball uniforms, but they commanded respect as they honored the flag, the Lakota Nation, and all the people gathered for the day.

I noticed that when one of our players stepped to the free throw line, some of our junior high girls would call out the name of his girlfriend and giggle. After hearing that a couple of times I went up to the group and told them that if they really wanted to encourage our players, that was much more distracting than helpful. They needed to cheer for the players themselves. When I was younger, I would have ignored that and just let it pass to avoid possible conflict. But it’s the little things that give us an opportunity to teach respect and learn values, and I couldn’t silently let it pass.

I helped in the concession stand, where I could talk with students, staff and our visitors. The 7th grade girls also set up a lunch stand in the game room. They are raising money to buy warm up jerseys with their names on them for when they take the court next year as 8th graders. They went through lots of hot dogs and sloppy joes, as well as Valentine’s Day treats they baked.