Guest Blogger: Claire

Ahhhh, Halloween.  It is a great day to flirt with the things that scare us the most, and poke a little fun at the dark side of life.  In other words, it’s just another typical day in St. Joseph’s High School Program.

I kicked off my Halloween season with parent teacher conferences at Chamberlain High School last Thursday.  I really did not need to be afraid.   I sat at a table marked “Giles Home” with a printout of my 10 students.   One by one, the CHS teachers came by to talk about students’ progress in their classes.  We keep close track of missing assignments and grades, so there weren’t any surprises.  I heard the usual feedback that students do well on daily work but struggle on tests.  The individual remarks were very heartening though.

“He’s a great kid.”

“He seems very interested in the subject.”

“He contributes a lot to discussions.”

“He has terrific penmanship.”

The Giles Home climbing Harney Peak.
The Giles Home climbing Harney Peak.

The following day, the Giles Home departed on a long weekend home trip to Rapid City.  We started out by climbing Harney Peak, the highest point in the Black Hills.  In the snow.  Who’s afraid of a 6 hour hike in the snow, right?  Who’s afraid of not keeping up with 10 guys with boundless energy and the skill of mountain goats?  Who’s afraid of not making it back down before dark and having to use an iPhone for a flashlight?


What we had to be afraid of was getting in their way at the chow line at Golden Corral afterwards.

The next day, we took them to Flags and Wheels, where they got to play go-karts, laser tag and bumper cars.  This would not be scary, except that houseparents Melissa, Aaron and I are veterans of the high school summer program.  We know that these guys are going to be in driver’s ed next year.   They demonstrated some serious demolition skills with those bumper cars.  Ruthless, I tell you!

Who thinks these boys are ready for drivers ed?!
Who thinks these boys are ready for drivers ed?!

And of course we had to go to a haunted house at the Rapid City fairgrounds.  Caden (Aaron and Melissa’s 8 year old son) set the tone by hugging the big scary monster that greeted us in the parking lot.

Aww, shucks, how scary could the Terror in the Dark house be?  Despite this rather benign first impression, two guys didn’t even make it past the second room before surrendering, “I’m out!!”  The rest of the rooms were a blur of blood-curdling shrieks, menacing monsters and guys clinging to each other for dear life.  I was NOT the only one screaming like a girl.  Yes, some days it is good to be terrorized by things that can’t actually hurt you.  Especially if you have good friends nearby to grab onto, and four reliable houseparents to make sure you get home safely.

Honestly, there are things that scare me a lot more than icy mountains, funhouse cars and latex monster masks.  Failing at things, for example.  I hate failing at things.  I go to insane lengths to make sure that projects and plans go off without a hitch.  So why am I so twitchy about Halloween this year?  Because I have handed the reins over to the high schoolers.

This is the first year of doing a high school Student Leaders Group.  As part of our mission to prepare the students for life after high school, we are turning over some tasks and responsibilities to the students themselves.  We have formed a leadership group with delegates from each of the homes.  I act as an advisor, but I’m not actually “in charge” of anything.  Right now, they are trying to pull off a Halloween party.

Leadership Group has had a rocky start.  The first activity they planned was a dodgeball game.  It did not happen.

The second task they chose was to write a persuasive letter to the HS director in order to change a rule that they didn’t like.  That took some coaching on my part.

“No, saying ‘the rule is stupid’ is not sufficient.”

One of the delegates turned in a thoughtful, clear and rational reason that the rule could be changed. Oh yeah!

No one else finished theirs though. Augh!

The last activity they planned, the Red Ribbon Relay Race (say that 10x fast!) was beset with commitment issues.  The leaders who came through worked very hard but ran into unforeseeable difficulties.  Can anyone really divide a bunch of half-frozen kids into small groups and convince them to run around in a circle?  Note to self: get a bigger megaphone.

It is the day of Halloween and we are still working on a plan for the party.  This is where that fear of failure raises its ugly head.  I have to resist the urge to take over and tell people what to do, or worse, do it myself.  Because the point of all of this is not to have an event go perfectly.  The purpose is for the students to make a plan, make adjustments, make concessions, make mistakes, make corrections and make the best of it.  My purpose is not to decide for them what is possible.  The purpose is for them to figure out what they are capable of doing.

We ended our planning session on a positive note.  Each delegate has a list of things s/he is responsible for.  They have a best-case plan and a back up plan in case that doesn’t work out.  A lot of this means them asking for what they want, and deciding what to do if they can’t have it. They have done an impressive job foreseeing obstacles and brainstorming solutions.

This means that they are moving away from accepting “No, that can’t be done,” and moving towards finding ways that it can be done.  Anyone who works with teens knows that this can be scary and exhilarating.

What if the kids start thinking for themselves and *gasp* start asking questions?  What kind of a monster have we awakened?!  Hopefully, some sort of quasi-adult, thoughtful monster.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Claire, High School Houseparent

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Guest Bloggers: Mike and April

The Carola Home won the high school trophy for with least missing assignments!!
The Carola Home won the high school trophy for with least missing assignments!!

Working hard and having fun!

Hello again from the Carola Home! A new year has begun and our boys are doing a wonderful job with all they have to do. This year we have four Juniors and three Freshman boys in our home. They have worked hard with school work, homework, tutoring, football, other activities and home responsibilities.

First quarter we had five boys make the honor roll and two who were just short of the honor roll, giving our home a GPA of 3.32. Besides studying hard, part of their success is not getting behind in their school work and not having many missing assignments.

The boys had a great time at Wild Water West!
The boys had a great time at Wild Water West!

With all the hard work they put in so far, they really enjoy having some downtime. With donors helping provided for St. Joseph’s Indian School, each home has a budget that they go by. Part of this budget goes to home trips. Home trips are a great time to relax and have fun and build relationships. At the beginning of the year, our home went to LifeLight Music Festival and Wild Water West. They had a great time camping and enjoying some wonderful music, go carts, going down the water slides and swimming in the wave pool.

With funds for a trip already spent, the boys had to come up with a way to make money. Our boys decided to do a car wash to raise funds for another home trip.

The car wash was a great success.
The car wash was a great success.

The boys used a no school day for the car wash. They asked for a freewill donation to support their home trip. They washed many cars and they spent all day with such a positive attitude and worked very hard. They made enough money for the trip – hiking at Harney Peak, shopping at the Rushmore Mall, and dinner and movies in Rapid City.

The boys are always saying “thanks for dinner” and while we were out at the restaurant they said, “Thanks for dinner.” We reminded them that they earned this themselves and thanked them for dinner.

They were very proud and so were we. They also realized how working hard can pay off.

Big smiles from the Carola Home.
Big smiles from the Carola Home.

Magical and inspirational places

We all had so much fun exploring the Black Hills!
We all had so much fun exploring the Black Hills!

We experienced two of South Dakota’s best known mountains today. One must see is, of course, Mount Rushmore, where we took our German exchange students for the essential photo ops. While their command of English is quite good, they were pleased to find a good selection of the monument’s brochures in German, which made it nice for souvenirs for friends and family back home. Besides the famous faces, our students took almost as many pictures of the stray mountain goat that wandered into the parking lot.

I’ve been to Mount Rushmore many many times. Seeing it through the eyes of visitors for the first time helps make it a magical and inspirational place.

In contrast with Mount Rushmore’s huge gifts store, cafeteria and all the amenities, Harney Peak is in the Black Elk wilderness area, accessible only by a long hike. We carried water and snacks in our back packs. Atop the 7,400 foot peak, the highest point east of the Rockies, stands a fire watch tower. It was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Core, and staffed until the early 80’s. From the peak you can see about 50 miles in every direction. Spectacular! The Lakota holy man Black Elk spoke of his vision quest in this very area.

The hike was strenuous, with about a thousand foot climb up 3 miles of trail. For me coming back down was harder in spots than going up. The loop took us about four hours. We staggered our group of 18, and let everyone go at their own pace. We had a bus key at the end in case anyone got tired, but I was most impressed that everyone completed the pilgrimage.

I couldn’t keep up with most of the high school students. When they reached the top some still had energy to burn and explored the rocks and ledges surrounding the peak. I had some time with hiking companions, but more time alone, and that time was prayerful and meditative. When the going got tough, I thought of what it must have been like for Jesus to carry his cross along a rocky road, in far more difficult circumstances. I also remembered the people I’ve climbed the trail with in previous years, and lifted them up in prayer.

When we got back to Rapid City, we finished the evening at a buffet restaurant, where the tired but satisfied group refueled and recounted their adventures along the trail. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Chamberlain, while the group heads further west to experience Devil’s Tower.