What a Sport!

I remember one of the first high school basketball games I went to as a sixth grader spectator. I was nervous and not really sure what to expect of the big kids in the student section. I remember walking into the Legion Auditorium our school used for games. The slightly sweaty smell from the players and crowd, hot humid air, the adults sitting around the gym, and the noise. I remember making my way to the student section, sitting down and feeling a bit out of place. I was new to this and didn’t know or understand the rules of cheering at a game. But soon, learned what one could or couldn’t do. Learning the cheers, knowing when to stand up and shout and knowing when to be quiet. Taking my cues from the older kids and learning what sportsmanship was. It was exciting being part of the group and being swept up into the hysteria of the moment. I still think I could yell some of the cheers from those days!

Continue reading “What a Sport!”

What do you do all summer at St. Joseph’s?

It is a universal understanding that people who work at schools should get the summers off. Well I am here to tell you this is a myth! Folks I talk to always ask what I do with

Frank W. 7-8th Residential Coordinator
Frank W.
7-8th Residential Coordinator

summers off… and then become perplexed when I tell them that, at St. Joseph’s Indian School, I work all summer.

This is when the questions comes out: What do you do all summer? I usually answer “not much” with a sly smile on my face.

The campus is different type of busy from June to August. Between Rising Eagle Day Camp in June, high school students working summer jobs and going to camps, the summer home for grades 1-8, interviewing potential houseparents and planning programing for the next school year, we tend to keep pretty busy. I think there are more kids on campus during June than during a month during the regular school year!

There are approximately 14 Lakota students in grades 1-8 who stay on campus until mid-July.
Students in St. Joseph’s summer program recently had a field trip to the local airport.

In the organized chaos that is summer, I help supervise the summer home with the other Residential Coordinators. We have approximately 14 Lakota students in grades 1-8 who stay on campus until mid-July. There are several different reasons for students to stay on campus in the summer home, but all come with their parent or guardian’s request and approval. The kids have a great time over the summer with extra trips, daily visits to the Chamberlain pool and community service projects. The hard part is that they have to attend school Monday through Friday, 9am to noon.

For our high school students, a major part of their summer being able to work in various jobs on campus. We have junior houseparents who went through an interview process and earned a spot working in the summer home. Junior houseparents help with supervision of the students, preparing meals, and even some paperwork. Students earn valuable work experience and get to see the other side of the fence of living in a St. Joseph’s home!

Another part of what I do in the summer is work with other administrators to plan for next year. Decisions need to be made about programing, policies and updating rules. This is a really boring process, but it’s important to ensure everything on campus runs smoothly next year.

The last big piece of summer at St. Joseph’s is interviewing and hiring new houseparents. Our Human Resource Department works hard at recruiting, screening and bringing in potential houseparents for interviews. This is a lengthy process, but necessary to ensure we find the right people to care for the children in their campus homes.

St. Joseph’s has junior houseparents who went through an interview process and earned a spot working in the summer home.
RJ, a 2015 graduate, is working with summer school teachers in the mornings and as a junior houseparent in the afternoons.

When summer starts to wind down in July and the summer kids leave for home, campus becomes really creepy quiet! I use the word “creepy” because, without the laughter and noise of the kids, campus just doesn’t feel right. The kids are definitely the heart and soul of our campus life and are duly missed when they are not here.

As staff, we appreciate the down time, but the creepy quiet also reminds us why we are here, and renews our faith and belief in the mission of St. Joseph’s Indian School.

So folks, that is what happens on campus in the summer!

What I do is small piece in the bigger puzzle of St. Joseph’s. Our development office, maintenance crew, rec staff and Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center staff work hard all summer doing their part to keep campus running, make repairs and welcome visitors.

We only have seven weeks until new staff training starts. And the kids come back for the new school year just two weeks after that!

Please pray for our staff to receive rest and renewal on their time off and pray for students to have safe and happy summer. As always, thank you for your support! Without your generosity, we could not continue the work we do to help the Lakota (Sioux) children. Thank you!

Frank W.

7-8th Residential Coordinator

The heart of our mission at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Hello from St. Joseph’s seventh and eighth grade community! My name is Frank and I am the Residential Coordinator for this community, which means I oversee all the

Frank, 7th & 8th Grade Residential Coordinator
Frank, 7th & 8th Grade Residential Coordinator

seventh and eighth grade houseparents

With the blizzard of activities that surround our students and staff, I sometimes get lost in the perpetual motion. I also sometimes forget that our students have more going on in their lives than just what goes on here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Our mission is to minister to the needs of the whole student – mind, body, heart and spirit.

I was reminded of the real goals of our mission recently.

During the week, I work later in the evening to spend time in the homes, visit with the students and help out where I can. I went to one of our girl’s home and as I walked in the houseparent asked me to prop the door open.

This is actually against the rules. Our homes are set up to maintain utmost safety for our students and staff, so outside doors are always locked. Students have a code to let themselves in.

It does happen on occasion that the doors are propped open – maybe the air needs to clear quickly from a burnt pan or simply to let in some fresh air. When the houseparent asked me to prop the door, I asked if she had burnt something and was trying to keep the fire alarm from sounding.

She said no and politely explained the reason – the home was having an honoring supper.

One of the girls lost their father last year and this was the anniversary of his passing. The student had been down during week, but her houseparent had picked up on her mood and made the connection. As she continues to struggle with the grief of her father’s passing, an honor supper is meant to help the student grieve and celebrate her father’s life and spirit. The supper symbolically hosts his spirit and helps the student connect her father in healthy, culturally significant way.

St. Joseph’s has many Native American houseparents like Rachel, who teaches students about powwow dances.
St. Joseph’s is blessed to have houseparents from all walks of life, especially those who can help the Lakota (Sioux) children learn about their culture.

The supper table was laid out spectacularly with a spot for everyone in the home and an extra place of honor for the student’s father. At this place on the table, there was a picture of him with sage and flowers arranged around the picture. The honor spot, with his picture, was placed at the head of the table in a simple gesture of respect for his spirit. The student invited her older brother from one of the high school homes to be part of the special meal.

In accordance with Lakota tradition, the two prepared a spirit plate for their father to nourish his spirit in the afterlife.

As I had observed when I arrived, the door was propped open. It was open to welcome his spirit into the home and allow free passage.

I was completely chagrinned.

The simple gesture was out of concern for the student’s wellbeing – truly at the heart of St. Joseph’s mission.

St. Joseph’s houseparents live with our students day in and day out. They know the students well enough to pick up cues when behavior is out of the ordinary. They know their families.

This houseparent was able to connect the dots and then intervene in a culturally sensitive and meaningful way for the student.

In the hubbub of everyday life at St. Joseph’s Indian School, I tend to focus on results such as good grades and exceptional behavior from our students. It is easy for our focus to get stuck in one area of our mission, just like I was.

But as usual, circumstance came around to remind me what was really important and the scope of our mission as a whole. These opportunities, I believe, are designed by the Creator to keep us moving forward, to keep us focused on the mission as a whole and to humble us when needed.

St. Joseph’s houseparents are with the children all the time they are not in school.
St. Joseph’s houseparents transform houses into homes full of love!

I was humbled by the houseparent’s awareness and ability to help her student cope in a way which makes sense on many levels. Interventions and simple acts of compassion happen every day in our homes on campus; our houseparents minister in many ways to the spiritual needs of our students. We don’t always see those simple acts of kindness, but we do see the end result in the smiling happy faces of the children we serve.

I would like to thank all of our supporters – without you being part of our mission we would not be able to meet the needs of our students!

God Bless,

Frank W.

7-8th Grade Residential Coordinator

Coincidence or part of the bigger plan?

So…the other day I was walking into our Student Coordinator office and noticed a stack of boxes sitting by the door. I hadn’t really noticed the boxes for awhile and wondered

Six Lakota students helped Frank deliver St. Joseph’s donation of food to the local domestic violence shelter.
Helena helped Frank and other students deliver boxes of food to the local domestic violence shelter.

what they where and how long they had been in that spot…

Then it hit me!

The boxes contained the food from the annual food drive St. Joseph’s holds in November. *forehead smack*

In the hustle and bustle of the school year, we never delivered them to the domestic violence shelter here in Chamberlain. Color me embarrassed – I was in charge of delivering!

I immediately began working with Jennie, the Student Coordinator, to come up with a plan to deliver the food. We picked four students to help load and unload the boxes. I called the shelter and set up a time to make the delivery. The day arrived came and I ended up with two extra students to help. And help they did!

The six students unloaded the boxes quickly.

The person on duty at the shelter worker was very grateful for the donation – they had several clients in the shelter at the time and supplies were running low.

My embarrassment of forgetting the food boxes abated. I realized maybe us (actually just me) forgetting the food for all that time in the office was part of the bigger plan…

Maybe, just maybe, things happen for a reason. Maybe sometimes we just need to flow with our surroundings and trust what’s happening.

Or, maybe it was just coincidence that our twelve boxes of food came at the right time…

Whatever the case, it was the right time to role model and teach the students about generosity firsthand by giving back to our community, even if it didn’t work out exactly like I first planned.

Chances for small lessons of generosity, independence, belonging and mastery are given to us every day at St. Joseph’s Indian School. As staff and helpers, we need to remember to watch for these times and take full advantage of opportunity to teach our Native American students in the best way we can.

And today, I believe my “mistake” was part of the bigger plan to share this lesson of generosity with the six students who helped deliver those boxes.

As our school year winds down and the students get ready for summer break, I would like to thank our extended family for making these teachable moments possible for our students. Everyone shows support to our students to make this possible – we can’t do this work without you! We are truly thankful and blessed by your generosity.

Happy summer!

Frank W.

Residential Coordinator

Where we going?

Where we going?

This is an interesting question that can be answered in many different ways.  On this particular

The Lakota children decorated a Christmas tree at the South Dakota Hall of Fame.
Jacob and his classmates helped make small drums and drumsticks to use as decorations for the Christmas tree.

day at St. Joseph’s Indian School, the answer was to decorate a Christmas tree at the South Dakota Hall of Fame.  This is about 4 miles from campus, right along Interstate 90.

South Dakota leaders and luminaries are honored here – it is a great stopping point along I-90.  Each year, the Hall of Fame invites community leaders and organizations to decorate Christmas trees in the Hall of Fame.  St. Joseph’s was one of the first organizations to arrive and picked a choice spot to put up our tree.

We took six of our younger Lakota students from Student Leadership Committee to help.  They were all excited and couldn’t wait to help. The first challenge was matching all limbs to the right spot on the trunk of the artificial tree. We had to make sure to spread out the branches to make the tree look full and big.  The students did a great job of keeping the branches separate and sticking them in the right holes.  The tree looked full and big by the time we fluffed all the branches out!

Then, up went the lights! I helped string the lights from the top of the tree to the bottom with two of the girls guiding me around the tree and ensuring I had enough lights to make it the tree look bright.  Once we finished putting the lights up we plugged them in to make sure they worked.

To our surprise, the lights twinkled and blinked.  We didn’t remember the lights flashing last year… but hey, what a bonus!  The students thought it was neat; they oohed and aahed, mesmerized by the lights.

After the lights were checked and the students refocused, they started to hang small hand drums up and down the tree.  The drums have St. Joseph’s logo on them and the students help make them.  Then we pulled out small dreamcatchers, a few wooden flutes and drumsticks for the students to hang.  The last ornaments to go up were homemade snowflakes with pictures of the students in the middle.  The final touch was small wooden teepee to top of the tree.  After a few alterations, the tree was finished and looked great!

The students helped clean up the mess and put the tree in place.  We loaded in the mini bus once again and headed back to campus.  The students were in a great mood and sang a few bars of Jingle Bells on the way, only they changed the verse to “Jingle Bells, Frank smells…” 

We had a good laugh over their version of a classic Christmas song.

All the fun aside, where are we going? can be a very hard question to answer.

But on this day, we were blessed to be able to tell the students, “we are going to spread the Christmas spirit and share our school with the rest of the community.”

St. Joseph’s tree at the South Dakota Hall of Fame was decorated by younger Lakota students.
St. Joseph’s younger students helped decorate the Christmas tree at the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

On this day, we were blessed to give the students a firsthand lesson about citizenship, generosity and belonging.   On this day, we were blessed to teach a lesson about life. On this day we were blessed to help our Native American students learn a little bit more about where they are going and who they will become.  Life lessons and teachable moments happen every day, and we are blessed to put them to good use!

Here is hoping you all have a great Christmas season full of family and blessings.

Merry Christmas!

Frank W.

6-8 Residential Coordinator


A beautiful day for a football game

Last Saturday was a beautiful fall South Dakota day – perfect for a football game!  We loaded up 12 of St. Joseph’s seventh and eighth-grade football players and headed down the road to Brookings South Dakota, home of South Dakota State University’s Jackrabbits.

The Lakota boys at a South Dakota State football game.
St. Joseph’s seventh and eighth-grade football players took in a college game at SDSU.

We left in the morning and arrived early for game time.  We found great seats!  The house was packed, as the Jacks took on the #1 rated North Dakota State Bison.  The Bison are from Fargo, North Dakota.  The crowd was intense, as there was about as many Bison fans in attendance as there were Jacks fans!

We have been taking the football boys on this trip for last several years. It isn’t just about watching football… that’s just the excuse we use to extend our classroom and provide real-life learning to the Lakota boys and girls.

With this trip, the boys get to experience a college atmosphere and see a college campus. Along with soaking up college, the boys get to practice skills we teach and role model for them every day – everything from basic social skills like starting a conversation to using good manners and being accountable for themselves and their actions. Extending our classroom into the world allows our students develop Mastery on these skills and gives them a sense of Independence, which are two of the primary components of the Circle of Courage.

After a hard battle, the Jacks were defeated 20-0.  We left Brookings and stopped in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for supper.  The boys were all starving and we found buffet that we knew would fill them up.  This was another opportunity for the boys to practice their social skills.  The boys ate their fill and finished off with ice cream before we hit the road back to St. Joseph’s.

We arrived back to campus just in time for bed. The boys got off the bus and thanked us for taking them to a football game, never suspecting we actually took them to a “classroom” so they could learn something.

The boys may have thanked us for taking them but they should thank the donors who make such trips possible.  So, on behalf of the St. Joseph’s Indian School Jr. High Football team, thank you for your support!

Frank W., Residential Coordinator

The football field and stadium at South Dakota State University.
The stands were packed as South Dakota State Jackrabbits took on their northern rivals – the North Dakota State Bison!

Dance, Dance!

Hello from 6-7-8th grade Residential!

‘Twas the day of the dance, when all across campus

Students were primping in anticipation

The hairstyles and clothes were donned with care

In hopes of meeting that someone special there

Last year, St. Joseph’s Indian School started the tradition of hosting a dance for our sixth, seventh and eighth grade Lakota students.  We invite the Chamberlain public school students to campus to join with our students at the dance, which helps build community among them.

As part of St. Joseph’s strategic plan, we are being challenged to provide more opportunities to build relationships between our students and students from the local public school.  We believe this will help them in many ways but specifically, once they reach high school, better relationships will make that transition smoother.  Hosting community dances like this is a great way to help youth get to know one another.  It also gives the students a chance to use their social skills and practice mastery in that area.

St. Joseph’s Lakota students invited Chamberlain students to their dance in an effort to build relationships.
The Lakota students had a great time dancing the night away!

Watching the process during the dance is fun for me and very similar, I think, to everyone’s experience at junior high dances. At first, all the students stand to the side looking at each other shyly.  They all seem to be hesitant to get out on the floor and strut their stuff.

St. Joseph’s older Native American students help with activities for younger students.
Chris, a St. Joseph’s senior, and Andrea, a St. Joseph’s alumnae, served as DJ’s for the junior high dance.

After a couple of songs, however, a few of the girls get brave and start dancing. Before long, more and more are joining in on the floor.  By the end of the night, everyone has gotten on the floor at least once. The students’ process of slowly warming up and finally dancing demonstrates growth in the area of independence.

As usual, when the lights came on at the end, there was a collective moan from the crowd wanting more music and more dancing!

Chris, one of our high school seniors, and alumnae Andrea provided the DJ service for the dance. They did a great job getting the students on the floor dancing and involved.

The admission fee to the dance was $2 or two cans of food at the door.  We were able to collect 156 food items for the local food pantry and around $30 at the door to donate to a local charity.  This speaks to the Lakota (Sioux) value of generosity and helping our community when we can.

All these lessons are very important and piece of what we try to teach our students every day at St. Joseph’s Indian School. These experiences give the students an opportunity to learn firsthand lessons that we hope stay with them for life.

Without your support and prayers, none of this would possible. Thanks to all that support our work.  We couldn’t do it with you!

Frank W.

Residential Coordinator