A Time for Lunch, A Time to Learn…

Hi! I’m Nicole. I am one of the Family Service Counselors at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Family Service Counselors wear many hats—not only do we provide clinical mental health counseling, conduct guidance lessons in the school and assist with student issues in the homes – we are also the main contact for our students’ parents and guardians. Continue reading “A Time for Lunch, A Time to Learn…”

Hopeful, patient waiting

Last night I met with Elijah and Shawn, two of our high school boys who were excited to be chosen to represent St. Joseph at an upcoming donor appreciation luncheon in Sarasota Florida come January. They were also a little worn out, since they are trying out for the Chamberlain Cubs basketball team, and just came home from practice. In fact, this week they’ve had two practices daily, one at 6 a.m. and one right after school.

I caught them in between supper and their Sons of Tradition meeting, where they meet with their Family Service Counselors to learn more about Lakota culture and take part in a talking circle to share issues that face them in their awkward adolescent years. The Daughters of Tradition group took part in an inipi – sweat lodge which I heard was well received.

Once the boys left for their session, I had time for conversation with Tim and Jessica, who started as houseparents in August. It is a big adjustment, and they work in two different homes for three days each. Another huge adjustment is raising a new baby – Lilya is now three months old. I’m around children all the time, but not that often lately with one so young. While the parents ate, I held the baby on my knee, and got along quite well. Every child deserves to be loved and nurtured, and that’s a main goal with all our students. Some need some extra care and attention, especially if they weren’t fortunate to have a stable and nurturing early childhood.

Our Pastoral Care group met today to finalize some details about Advent, which starts on Sunday. It seems odd when it doesn’t begin right after Thanksgiving. With many Christmas decorations already up, we still want to create an atmosphere of hopeful, patient waiting. We also looked ahead to our sacramental preparation. We expect to have about 25 students, a good number of whom are also preparing for baptism and confirmation.

Tonight was the last home game for our fifth and sixth grade girls basketball teams. Our opponents were from the Pierre Indian Learning Center. The fifth grade girls had the fast break going, and the game was never close, with a 31-12 final. Both Justina and Kendra scored in double figures. The sixth grade game was a low scoring defensive struggle. When the PILC Warriors tied the game at 11 with two minutes to go, some of us were thinking it might take an overtime or two before somebody scored again. But Mary got fouled on the drive and made both ends of a one and one free throw chance, and our Braves prevailed.

With girls ages 10 – 12, the improvement you see over a short time is remarkable. Looking back over the first few games, many weren’t sure where to stand or what to do with the ball once they got it. I noticed little things that start to make a difference – how to move without the ball, how to box out for a rebound. Our coaches’ patience and persistence is paying off. I hope our kids learn that lesson in all of life.

Family activity night

Tonight, the Family Service Counselors organized Family Activity Night in preparation for next week’s Thanksgiving break. We will have a few students staying in a break home those days, but the majority of children will return home to celebrate with family for a few days.

The dining hall was filled with students and houseparents, 33 tables in all. Instead of being grouped by grades as they do at lunch, or the home groups that the students are in for supper, tonight the tables were grouped by siblings and cousins. Each group worked on cards and posters to take home to family to brighten their holiday. Through generous donations, we were also able to include some gift cards to grocery stores close to where the families live, especially since we know a lot of the folks can use the help with many mouths to feed.

We had some Christmas ornaments, gold colored with the St. Joseph’s logo. Each child carefully penned their name so their relatives could proudly hang it on their Christmas tree when the time comes. After a shared meal, we got out the bingo cards. You would have thought those who won a bottle of Gatorade or one of the movie tickets had won a huge jackpot. All in good fun.

Memorable laughs and occasional tears

Days on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus have memorable laughs and occasional tears. Today was a day for grieving, as we got word that the mother of four of our students died much too young. We are all lifting them up in our thoughts and prayers.

The boys’ aunt notified our family service counselors ahead of time, so Scott and Karen gathered the boys after school for a family meeting. An older brother, who lives out of state, was on the phone to take part in the conversation as well.  After they had time to let the sad news sink in, I was called to join in for some prayers.

Dave, one of our Native American Studies Specialists, brought in a hand drum, and sang a Lakota prayer song to comfort and strengthen the family. There aren’t a lot of words at times like this, only a caring presence. Karen rounded up some gift cards to the local McDonald’s  so the auntie and boys could go out for supper and some time together before parting. I’m sure the days to come will be tough on the boys. Our circle of support will try to walk with them along the difficult journey.

On a more joyful note, I stopped by the school gym later to watch our 1st – 3rd grade boys learning about wrestling. Two of the houseparents were helping Mark, our recreation specialist teach not only about rules and techniques, but about sportsmanship. The houseparents also appreciated the fact the boys could burn off energy in a constructive way, hoping they’d be calmer when they arrived home to settle in for the evening.

Guest Blogger: Robin

Hi, my name is Robin and I am the Special Education Department Chair here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I have a Bachelor of Science in Education/Special Education and a Master’s in Reading and Literature. I just have to say that I really LOVE it here at St. Joseph’s Indian School! There is so much to do and to volunteer for.

My story is a continuation. I started here in 2002 and was only able to stay for two years. During one of those two years I was the Director of Special Education. I had the awesome opportunity to mentor a beautiful young lady, who is now at her home in Lower Brule.

I also had the opportunity to tutor in the high school homes three times per week. One of the students I tutored back then has gone on to graduate with honors, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. I am so proud of Savannah!

My day job was Special Education for those students needing a little more help to be successful. Not only did I schedule meetings, plan lessons and file reports, I was able to teach some remarkable young people. I had small groups of students in grades 1-4. The stories of some of our students are heart wrenching to say the least. I am just glad the Lord put me here to work with them and pray for them. They have blessed me in immeasurable ways.

I then had to go to Georgia to help take care of my elderly in-laws. We were gone for seven years. My in-laws passed away and we stayed a few more years because of the economy.

But, my heart was always here at St. Joseph’s.

I decided not to renew my contract with the school system I was at and began calling St. Joseph’s to see if there were any positions available.  Then came that wonderful September morning I got a call from Melissa in Human Resources asking me to come for an interview. OF COURSE I JUMPED ON THE OFFER!

So, the last week in September 2011, I was back at St. Joseph’s interviewing for Special Education Teacher. I was so excited, I was in tears!

Well, they accepted me back here and I was elated. They asked when I could start and without thinking I said any time! They told me to think about it and get things settled there in Georgia!

So I thought about it… My grandson was to be born October 13, 2011 and my granddaughter was turning 5 on October 13 as well. I stayed for Dakota’s party and left the following morning, leaving behind my son and my husband to “finish up” down there.

I also left my daughter and two of my five granddaughters there in Georgia.  Before that, we were inseparable!

I drove all by myself (I’ve NEVER done that before) all across this country to get to Iowa to see my grandson and then on to South Dakota to come to St. Joseph’s. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my family – but I was going “home” to St. Joe’s!

You may be wondering why I am telling this story. I want you all to know what a wonderful, caring, and dedicated staff there is here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The students are awesome as well! They are people you will never forget. The school is always evolving. In the following picture are the Tiny Tot jingle dress dancers. One of the girls is my granddaughter, Dakota (blue dress with bows). Another is a houseparent’s daughter, the little one and the one with her back to the camera is from a neighboring reservation, and one is the daughter of a St. Joseph’s teacher.

St. Joe’s takes the term Tiyospayeextended family full circle. Not only do we serve the students and their families, we remember to serve our own families as well.

As in many jobs, we dedicate much of our time and energy to our work and forget family is just as important. Here at St. Joseph’s, our “work family” is important, but our own families are as well. The students here love to meet our families and play with them at various activities.

The Special Education program is unique here at St. Joseph’s.

We follow all Federal guidelines when testing and supporting our students. We try to keep the students in the classroom and modify or accommodate as needed there.

Our program is more the resource type, as we have limited staff in this area. Our Family Service Counselors help us with behaviors and other concerns that the special education teachers deal with daily in public schools. Although I do have a lot of paper work, I also get to work with my team and with many students individually or in small groups. As I said, we are unique. We have a lot of support people here who help with groups, interventions and any other requests to help a student be successful.

Why do I love it here? Well, the beginning of the school year is amazing. When the students see that you are here again for another year, and you have not left them, they are so thrilled and excited to see you!

I am fortunate to be able to work in the homes as a substitute as well. This is where you see the awesomeness of our structure. The kids begin to feel as though you really want to help them succeed. They are responsible for doing their charges (chores). This includes doing their laundry, keeping their rooms clean, helping clean the home and helping with the meals and snacks.

They go on family trips and outings, do things in town, do things for others in the community and around school. The students take their “jobs’’ very seriously and are proud of what they know how to do. As a mentor I get to do activities with my mentee, whether it is on campus or in town. We learn about each other and get to teach each other things we didn’t know how to do. It is always great when she sees me and gives me a hug!

Did I tell y’all how much I love St. Joe’s????

Listening to our Native American families

A lot of visitors stayed over and joined us for our regular Sunday mass. Some of our students wore their dance regalia and led the opening procession down the aisle, and later presented the gifts of bread and wine. After communion, our drum group sang a “pilamaya thank you” song, addressed to God, in appreciation of our donors who make our programs possible.

I stayed around after mass and answered final questions from folks before they hit the road to all parts of the country. I counted people from at least 25 different states who made the pilgrimage to Chamberlain to share these joyful days with us.

Our Parents Advisory Committee spent all day with us discussing a host of issues. We’ve been working with a group called Child Trends to survey students and parents, and reviewed their findings via a webinar. What the students want (fewer rules and fewer people watching over them) are some of the things parents are most comforted by with the St. Joseph programs. Still, we don’t want to keep doing things like we’ve always done them without reviewing to see if they are still accomplishing what we hoped they would. Our phone rules and children’s ability to call home haven’t kept in touch with cell phone and computer/Skype technology and are in need of serious revision. We reviewed some of our admissions criteria, and the interview questions that Family Service Counselors ask families on their initial visits. For safety we have lots of security cameras around campus, and we informed the parents how those are used.

We also made time to tour the new alumni/historical center that is part of the Akta Lakota Museum addition. While that is nearing completion, they seemed more enthralled by the gutted old grocery store that is in the process of becoming our expanded thrift store.

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Sixteen staff members who have been hired over the past year started their week of New Staff Orientation. Some have been here as long as eleven months and seem like old pros, but nine are brand new. Mike, our Director of Child Services, gave a fitting welcome. He and his wife started here as houseparents 27 years ago. He identified with people’s initial excitement, but also fears. Some days working with students in a residential situation can try anyone’s patience. Other days are so rewarding. The first year is such a learning experience and he urged people to be realistic about the ups and downs and to look to other staff for help through the stressful times. As our supervisors introduced themselves, the youngest has been here 5 years, but others from 15 to 35 years. Mike said that when you keep the mission in mind, this work really becomes part of you and St. Joseph’s is a special place. And we have great staff longevity. Yet new people always bring us their gifts and keep things fresh.

I started to work on the names of our new staff. The 1st and 2nd grade teachers are Annie and Mary, easy enough to remember since I have twin sisters by those two names. I look forward to getting to know each of the houseparents, teachers and support staff who bring enthusiasm and a desire to make a difference.

Kathleen, our principal, was invited to attend a conference in Germany. Many different schools run by the Priests of the Sacred Heart participated, and the cultural exchange was enlightening. She came back excited with ideas and materials about what it means to be an SCJ educator and how to pass Dehonian values on to our students.

The offices surrounding mine have been fairly quiet the past couple of weeks. In comparison, today seemed like a beehive of activity. All of our Family Service Counselors (FSC) were back on the job, taking care of admissions. We are already close to capacity, but as school gets closer to starting, many families have made inquiries to see if there are any openings for their children. The FSCs are making sure all the consent forms were in, and getting all the student files ready so teachers and houseparents can review them next week.

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Get your 25% off coupon today!

Speaking of back to school, for all you who are putting your shopping lists together, Macy’s has again partnered with St. Joseph’s Indian School in a “Shop for a Cause” promotion. If a donor purchases a $5 Macy’s coupon, they receive 25% off at Macy’s stores and at www.macys.com on Saturday, August 25th. 

The great news is that St. Joseph’s gets to keep 100% of the proceeds!

You can learn more about this promotion on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s website.

 Get your 25% off coupon now!