The 1st day back at St. Joseph’s Indian School

The day our Lakota students return for the start of the new school year is among my favorite days of the whole year.

Siblings Anthony (5th grade) Samantha (4th grade) and Nevaeh (2nd grade) were the first students back on campus a little before 11:00 this morning. Anthony asked his houseparent Luke, “Are we the only ones here?”

Since the homes don’t officially open until noon, Luke replied, “Yes, but we’re ready for you and excited that you’re here.”

The rest came trickling in throughout the day. Central offices were abuzz with Family Service Counselors on the phone with families having trouble getting in – for instance, car trouble, no gas money or family events. Lower Brule Powwow is still going into the night, so we expect those students late or even possibly not until tomorrow.

We’ve heard of a few families changing their minds about having their children enroll here, so we go to the waiting lists and invite the students we have prioritized, and whom are happy to be told of the opening.

I made an early round of visits, and saw some of the families arriving with suitcases, tubs or plastic garbage bags with clothes for the new school year. All their clothes are inventoried when the kids arrive. Next stop is the health center for a checkup which includes an eye exam, check of any medications the students have been prescribed over the summer, checks of hair for head lice and notation of any cuts or bumps and bruises. The Health Center staff will be especially busy these first few days making sure all the health care needs are attended to.

Once settled in, I saw lots of game playing. Some tossed a baseball or shot baskets. The tetherball post was crowded. Other kids checked out inside play like building blocks or computer games. Older siblings got passes to other homes to check in on younger brothers and sisters.

As of right now we are bringing in 39 brand new students to our program. As I stopped in the homes, I started the ongoing task of learning names, and a little about their family or home community. Since I see students in the homes, classroom, playground and in church throughout the week, it really doesn’t take all that long to link a name to a face, and make them feel that much more welcome and accepted.

The first night is often the most difficult in terms of homesickness. While that is always sad when a child feels so lonely, our houseparents are prepared and try to build the comfort and trust that will help a youngster grow and flourish as the year goes on.