Children’s laughter

Today was the last day of school for Chamberlain High School. Our four high school homes emptied out quickly once the school day was over. Many of the students will be back in a couple of weeks for driver’s ed, transitional living classes or summer work experiences. Kudos to all the staff who work with these students and saw them through to another successful year!

The ten 1st-3rd graders who have made honor roll all year were treated to a movie and supper in Mitchell. I joined Jennie (Student Coordinator) and Celia (Residential Coordinator) to chaperone the students and had a delightful time. The Pirates: Band of Misfits was not exactly a classic that I’ll never forget, but what I will always remember and treasure were the kids’ giggles and laughs at the silly humor. We ate supper at Culver’s, where everyone got to chose from one of 5 children’s meals, and end the outing with a scoop of frozen custard.

Children’s laughter has a magical quality that heals and strengthens the heart.

We have a small bus that was just the right size for our group. The trip takes about a hour each way. Videos entertained for a while, but mostly we started playing guessing games, talking and telling stories. I sat next to first grader, Nevaeh. Spending a couple of hours talking to a seven-year-old grounded me more solidly in the world view of a child. They have more questions than I have answers, but that’s why young minds can soak up so many things so quickly. Hopefully these Native American students will work hard throughout their many years of study, and learn how to enjoy learning.

Growing youth at St. Joseph’s Indian School

As I’m coming back from morning mass I usually see the bus waiting to pick up our high school students. Today I noticed a big crowd of students waiting for the bus. When I got closer I saw that half of the crowd was eighth graders, who will spend the day shadowing a high school student mentor. They are beginning their preparation for the transition into the public high school next fall. The eighth graders brought excitement and eager anticipation to the group, which is usually more sleepy and lethargic when it comes to going to school in the mornings. Once the eighth graders make the trek a few times, I think they’ll fall back into the half-asleep mode.

At the end of the day I ate supper with the Rooney Home (6th– 8th grade boys). They have five eighth graders who spent the day at Chamberlain High School. Michael liked the fact that unlike St. Joseph’s school with three floors, the high school is all on one level, just a lot more spread out. Kyle remarked that the math class seemed pretty tough, but then again he may surprise himself with what he is able to do a year from now if he takes his studies seriously.

The Rooney boys are in the 12 – 14 year old range, a time when they put away food like they haven’t eaten in days, and hit some big growth spurts. Jan, one of the houseparents, showed me a chart they keep chronicling the boys’ heights. Everyone in the home has added at least a couple of inches since August. Since last May, Merrill shot up from 5’0” to 5’8” – eight inches! That has meant lots of trips to Central Receiving to find more clothes that will fit. Thankfully, donors keep us pretty well stocked with the basics that the children need. Find St. Joseph’s Indian School’s needs list here.

Learning through life

I stopped by the computer lab to wish Gina, our Computer Teacher, a happy birthday. This is her first year, and she’s been monitoring the websites our students have access to. We’ve constantly worked at firewalls to block access to objectionable sites. On a positive note, she’s structuring our school web access so the students are directed to more academically enriching sites. Formerly when given time to surf, the students would mostly go to game sites. When some of their favorite sites didn’t work any more, they asked why!? Gina told them there are a lot more educational ways to spend time on the computer than only playing Mario Brothers. Begrudgingly, they kids are getting used to the “Gina rules” and hopefully using the computer time to enhance what they’re learning in the other classes.

After finishing up 2 ½ days of testing, the students with perfect attendance got to walk the mile to the downtown movie theater to see an afternoon matinee. The weather was perfect for the outing.

HR is busy with hiring boards, interviews and checking out references. Last week, we hired a new 8th grade teacher with a solid math background and a new houseparent, who will start next fall in the younger grade homes. Today I met another houseparent candidate from Michigan who is here for an interview.

Our tri-county area, which includes Chamberlain as well as the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Indian reservations, is planning to build a memorial to area veterans near the Interstate exit and overlooking the beautiful Missouri River. One of the organizers visited with me today to share more information and to ask for our help in promoting the project. Besides our many staff and students who have honorably served our country, there are actually quite a few priests and brothers who worked here over the years who were veterans before they chose to enter religious life.

Brother Steve Cyr SCJ  (died in 2003, the Cyr Home is named after) was a squad sergeant in the difficult battle of Monte Cassino in WWII. He said,

“I promised God that if He saw fit to let me survive that, when the war ended, I would become a religious and give my life in service.”

He worked at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 42 years, and admirably fulfilled that promise. We’re considering ways that we might honor and remember people like Brother Steve through this project.

I finished the evening by joining the Hogebach (high school girls) Home for supper. On the message board by the front door was a large “20” indicting the number of school days left at Chamberlain High School. Our three seniors in that home have even less. They’re getting very excited, but also having bad cases of “senioritis” and need regular reminders not to procrastinate and get caught up in missing assignments.

Many of these young women will be on campus for part of the summer, for driver’s ed or to help with our Rising Eagle Summer Camps. Some will continue jobs in town or try some new employment to gain work experience and save up a few bucks to help them realize future plans and goals. Just as summer is just around the corner, it won’t be long before the juniors in the home enter their final year of studies here.

Prom night for our Native American youngsters

Chamberlain High School held their prom this evening. A dozen of our high school students looked sharp as they ventured off to the evening’s festivities.  Some of them dined at a restaurant in town, but eight of the students were pampered right here on campus. At the Sheehy Home (high school boys), several houseparents got together and hosted a pre-prom dinner, with multiple courses and luscious desserts. Some of the freshmen and sophomore girls served as waitresses, no doubt taking mental notes about dresses, corsages and dreaming about a future prom invitation themselves. The older students enjoyed the attention and star treatment.

As I approached the home to check out the sharply dressed young men and women, I met the girls of Afra Home (1st-3rd grade) coming to check out the fashions themselves. Several had big sisters or brothers attending the prom, and quite a few of the other homes made their way up the hill to have a peek and wish the prom goers well. Later in the evening, many family members and friends showed up at the Armory for the Grand Entry, with flash bulbs filling the night before the dance hall doors were close, to leave the students to enjoy the night with classmates.

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.