Christmas is still coming!

I heard tell of a Lakota tribal official visiting the Apache Tribe in Arizona. They teased him “in the mountains we’re much closer to the Great Spirit.”

He replied, “Yes, I understand, but on the vast South Dakota prairie we can see God coming for three days, and have time to get ready!”

Renovation of the William home is moving along.
Sheetrock is up in the William Home! The facilities crew is now working on outlets and ventilation.

While other folks are taking down their Christmas decorations, we’re still getting ready to celebrate when all our students return. Last weekend two school groups, one from Barrington, Illinois and one from Watertown, South Dakota brought out some wonderful clothes and toys they’ve been collecting. As the houseparents return, we’ll check sizes and wish lists to find good matches for our students’ needs.

While many of our child services staff have had vacation time, staff in the development office have been faithfully answering mail and phone requests. The facilities crew has used this quieter time for projects like touch-up paint jobs and preventative spraying for bed bugs, which are jobs best done when the homes are empty.

They’ve been moving full speed ahead on several projects. The Summerlee Home renovation is almost complete, and those fourth and fifth grade girls should be moving back in a couple of weeks. The William Home will take a few more months, but the dry wall is up and the crew is working on the behind the scenes (and walls) items like electrical outlets and ventilation.

Fewer students means fewer vehicle trips over break. The school bus was in the garage getting a check up to make sure it’s fit for ball games and school trips once the semester gets going next week.

St. Joseph’s bus is in the shop for a tune up.
St. Joseph’s bus gets a tune up before second semester begins.

We have had a half dozen high school students on campus this past week taking part in basketball practices. Today, the rest of the crew of 42 filtered in. Cars pulled up to one of our five high school homes and kids carried suitcases or slung plastic bags full of clothes over their shoulder and started getting ready for second semester.

I spent a little time at each of the homes, welcoming students back. I always hope for happy news. Many of the students had good memories of their time with family, but a few had family struggles and drama over the break. Our houseparents and counselors will help them talk it out and process the disappointments and hurts, and hopefully get them off to a good start here.

Guest Blogger: Frank

My name is Frank and I am the Residential Coordinator for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade community, which means I supervise the houseparents who work in those homes. I have worked with the Native American students here at St Joseph’s for the last four years.

It is summer and, in between new carpet and paint in the school and the rest of construction going on around campus, my coworkers and I made good progress getting prepared for the next school year, which is fast approaching! The other coordinators and I have worked this summer updating the rules, mapping out enrichment lessons for the year and doing some general long-term planning for the residential department here at St. Joseph’s.

Today, I have been working on a slide show for the All Staff Meeting in August, which shows all we have done in the last year. “All Staff” refers to the date all the staff come back from summer and get ready for the school year with meetings and prep time in the homes or classrooms. As I browse our photos, I am amazed by how much we accomplished in the last year. From powwow to graduation, there is much that fills the year!

Summer isn’t dull by any means, but is not as fast paced as the regular school year. This summer I have been supervising the summer home for the last three weeks. Boy have they been busy!

The home has been fishing in the river, taking hikes, bike riding and going to school half days. They have also taken a few trips around the state to see the sites of South Dakota. One of the bigger trips has been to the Black Hills. Houseparents took students all over the Hills! They were able to visit Custer State Park and go swimming at Evan’s Plunge in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Over the 4th of July, students spent the day along the Missouri river fishing, cooking out and enjoying the water.

The students’ smiles are big and broad when we talk about the trips and other things they have done over the summer. Those smiles make planning a trip worth it for the houseparents. It can be a challenge to travel with so many kids, and expenses are always a concern.

But, the most important outcome for the students after these trips is they learn about the world around them by experiencing it firsthand. Trips away from St. Joseph’s campus also give them a chance to practice their social skills. This is the best learning opportunity we can provide to them, and we’re so grateful to be able to do it.

The summer home closes this week, and students will return to their families for the remainder of the summer. School starts again on August 13!

I am often asked why I work at St. Joseph’s. The easy answer is that I believe in the mission of the school. The long answer is I am from the Indian reservation and I have seen firsthand how tough life can be for the youth and families there.

St. Joseph’s provides hope to the families that their children will have a better outcome in adulthood than they did. Helping families work toward achieving this is an honor; I am privileged to have the opportunity to help in some small way. I am always thankful to our tiyospaye extended family – who supports our mission in so many ways and want to take this opportunity to say thanks. Without your support we couldn’t affect change in the ways we do for the students and their families!

Thanks for all you do!
Have a great summer.

Making each Lakota (Sioux) child feel valued and special

St. Joseph's Indian School's 2012 chili cook-off winners!
Congratulations to this year's chili cook-off winners!

Cold weather has returned to our area and St. Joseph’s Indian School’s Human Resources organized our annual Chili Cook Off today. About 15 staff members made their best chili or soup and judges decided who gets bragging rights for the next year. It’s a fun, cold weather activity.  By the time I arrived in the skate room, the three award-winning crock-pots were empty. But there were plenty of other samples to treat for the taste buds. Our dining room prepared its own hearty chili, and Wisconsin Cheddar soup to make sure no one went away hungry. The crowd of staff who gathered lingered long to talk, eat and raise each others’ spirit.

In the evening, I was invited to the Afra Home (1st – 3rd grade girls). Ironically, what was on the menu? Chili dogs! But that was also balanced by fruits and vegetables. After supper, I listened to the children read for a while. A houseparent with 12 students to supervise may not have the ability to sit down with one or two students like that and the girls relished the individual attention. While we deal with a number of children, it’s our goal to make each feel valued and special.

‘Tis the Season

Hello again from April and the Carola Home!

It’s holiday time in the Carola Home. The boys have returned from eating turkey, dressing and other favorites with their families and now they are excitedly waiting to go home for the Christmas break. This weekend the homes are starting to decorate, putting up the trees, lights and ornaments. Although the homes have their Christmas dinner and party in January, we still discuss family traditions and holiday activities. One of our favorite things to do is look around town at the lights and decorations. Our homes tradition is to say, “Ooooh, aaaah” at the homes that are decorated.

What are some of your favorite traditions?

A picture one of my boys took.
A picture one of my boys took.

This can be a hard time of the year for our American Indian youth to be apart from their families and focus on school. Our boys are doing amazingly well. Keeping their missing assignments low and their grades up. Preparing for the end of the semester, finishing up projects and studying for final exams. It is very good to keep them busy to help the time fly by.

Winter activities help with this. A few of the boys went to the elementary Christmas concert and one of them showed his talent by taking pictures. One of our boys is a referee for the girls inter-city basketball program. Six of our boys are on the CHS basketball team and eight boys are in the St. Joseph’s high school bowling league. Also, two of our boys were chosen to go to Rapid City, South Dakota for an alumni gathering. They will be able to see friends who have graduated and be encouraged of their stories of success.

Of course, with all these activities and keeping up with their school work they have very little down time. So on the weekends when there are no scheduled events, they make the most of their free time. Watching a favorite sports game on tv, playing videos game or going to the movies at the local theatre.

It is a very exciting time of the year and there is much more to look forward to after the holidays. With our Christmas party, trip home and more.

Helping boys becoming men

Mike and April's philosophy, "don't give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish."
Mike and April's philosophy, "don't give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish."


My name is Mike. I have been a houseparent at St. Joseph’s Indian School for three and a half years. My wife April also writes on this blog. We currently work as six-day houseparents in the Carola Home with 10 high school boys, as well as our two youngest children Miranda (6th grade) and Seth (5th grade). When we first came to St. Joseph’s we worked three days in the Rooney Home with 6th-8th grade boys and then three days in the Pinger Home with 6th -8th grade girls. Needless to say, life changed drastically every three days. 🙂

Almost every time I tell someone what I do, they ask just what is a houseparent? My typical response is, it’s the greatest job in the world. Artist mold and shape clay, doctors help mend broken bones,  but we mold and shape lives, we help mend hearts and minds.  We get the privilege to watch boys become men. My philosophy as a houseparent isn’t to give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish.

We began working in the Carola Home last year with 10 freshman boys. Three of the boys were with us in the Rooney Home during their 7th and 8th grade years. The others, I coached in football their 8th grade year. We ended the year with eight boys. All eight boys are back with us this year as sophomores and we have  added two freshman. One of the freshman was with us his 6th and 7th grade years in the Rooney Home. It truly is a privilege to watch as these boys work towards becoming men.

An example of our boys working to become men is the following. Our typical day starts at 6:30 am. While I’m getting breakfast ready, the boys wake up on their own, clean their rooms,  bathrooms and come downstairs by 7:00 am. While they’re eating, I check their rooms and bathrooms. Once they have eaten, they do various chores such as: cleaning the kitchen, living room, game room or sweeping the stairwells. I drive the school bus to the high school for all the homes, so I leave around 7:25 am to get the bus ready. The boys finish their chores and Ms. April checks them. They get on the bus by 7:40 and arrive at school around 8:00 am.

Last year, I went up stairs and went to each room waking each one. I discovered not everyone is a morning person like me. 🙂  I then watched as they cleaned their rooms and bathrooms. After several reminders we made it down stairs, however not everyone was on time. At the beginning of this year, I asked them  if they wanted me to wake them or use an alarm clock. They all agreed to the alarm clock. I asked if they could get their cleaning done on their own or did I need to come and watch. They all agreed they could do it on their own. They even set the consequence for anyone who wasn’t downstairs on time. To date, we have had far fewertardies and fewer reminders about their cleaning . One of my favorite posters in our home is a quote from the 1 Corithians 13:11:

When I was a child I spoke, thought and behaved like a child, but as I became a man I put away childish things.

Thank you for all your support. Please pray for us as we encourage our young men on their journey. Also, if you have a favorite quote about becoming a man we would love to hear it. We have many posters on our walls encouraging our guys to become the man their families and communities need them to be.

Until next time,


Student athletes recognized for achievements

The student athletes at St. Joseph's Indian School did a great job!
The student athletes at St. Joseph's Indian School did a great job!

After school the 6th – 8th grade youth gathered in the Rec Center for our Fall Sports Awards. Student athletes were recognized for achievements in cross country, football and volleyball.

Besides the awards for the best athletes in those sports, I am always touched by the acknowledgement of the kids who have the best attitude, make the most improvement and show leadership by their teamwork.

While being a little competitive is a good thing, I hope the sports and activities here teach our young people teamwork and the importance of preparing, practicing and working hard especially when the odds are against you.

Greetings from the lab

Hello to all!  My name is Sarah and I work at St. Joseph’s Indian School as a 6th-8th grade Science teacher.  I started here at St. Joseph’s as a 4th grade teacher and spent 4 years at that level, then moved to my current position and have been in this age group for the past 6 years.  I have been at St. Joseph’s Indian School since I graduated from college.  Every year has been fun-filled and full of learning for me.

Working with 6th-8th grade students is a wonderful opportunity.  With this position, I am able to see a phenomenal amount of growth in students: academically, physically, mentally and socially.

I love that I am allowed to witness these tremendous changes.

As a Science teacher, I am given a 45 minute class period, each school day with every single 6th-8th grade student.  We cover all areas of science including: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth/Space Science and how Science impacts such areas as technology, the environment and society.

Consider yourselves to have a hand in forming the future.
Consider yourselves to have a hand in forming the future.

Being in the Science arena, also allows me to choose different methods of delivery for instruction.  In my class we cover Science objectives in a variety of ways, whether it is through lecture, laboratory activities, digital lessons or virtual labs.  The latter two listed are new to me this year as we were able to purchase a new curriculum that is available in a print workbook and also entirely online.  It has been very effective thus far with my students.  They certainly enjoy the opportunity to use the computer as a tool for learning.

I try to do lab work as much as possible as the hands-on experience is valuable for many students and also tends to be more exciting.  Our Science Department can always use donations of equipment.  They do not need to be elaborate items, only things, such as everyday household items. For instance, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, white corn syrup, vinegar, baby oil, vegetable oil and food coloring.  These items can be used in a variety of ways to address topics such as density, chemical changes, and classifying things.

With your generous and heartfelt contributions to St. Joseph’s Indian School, I am able to give our Lakota (Sioux) youth enhanced learning opportunities.  We greatly appreciate you and you are in our prayers.  Thank you to all who donate to St. Joseph’s Indian School.  Consider yourselves to have a hand in forming the future. Pilamayathank you!

Be thankful and give back

Joe from Milwaukee has been a longtime friend of St. Joseph’s Indian School. He told me he still has a holy card with a picture of Our Lady of the Sioux that is at least 60 years old, from when he was a boy. Joe installs and services pipe organs, and every few years comes out to spend a few days to clean up and tune up ours. He and his friend Jay arrived yesterday.

Today during mass, I had asked them to pull out the stops and let the students hear what the pipe organ can do. We don’t have many in our area who play, and relish the chance to hear some good sacred music. The prelude music as the students were coming into chapel for mass helped set a prayerful mood that carried over to the liturgy. And instead of running right home, afterwards a few of our kids stayed afterwards just to hear more.

The four Benedictine Homes (1st – 3rd grades) had an early communal Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and all the trimmings. Each home contributed its part to provide a festive banquet for everyone. Afterward, everyone helped clean up, and I had to laugh at the efforts of first graders moving chairs that in some cases were taller than they were.

The Ambrose home did their service project today. They gathered toys and took them to the domestic violence shelter to share with the residents there. One of our students remembered when his mom sought refuge there. They knew the kids didn’t have many toys to play with, and wanted to share some from campus to bring them a little joy. Not just at Thanksgiving, but all year, we try to teach our students to be thankful and give back.


Inipi – sweat lodge ceremony

As I walked through Wisdom Circle on my way to the Rec Center, I noticed one of our first grade girls sitting alone on a bench away from the other kids. I said, “You look sad – is anything wrong?” She had been playing tether ball, but when her time was up another girl came and played with her friend and she was feeling left out and probably jealous. While those are small things to us adults (hopefully we handle them OK) it was a big deal to her, and putting a damper on her whole day. Then another tether ball pole was  freed up and she was off to play, things right in her world.

Our girls had 4th, 5th and 6th grade basketball games against Chamberlain. There were plenty of St. Joseph’s staff with children on the Chamberlain team. Practically everyone in the stands had divided loyalties, so there was lots of cheering for everyone. What the girls lacked in talent, they made up for in hustle and enthusiasm. It was particularly fun seeing the 4th graders go at it.

The boys had a great time prepairing for their was inipi - sweat lodge ceremony.
The boys had a great time prepairing for their was inipi - sweat lodge ceremony.

This afternoon was inipi – sweat lodge ceremony – for our teenage boys who wanted to participate. Several high school students served as mentors for 8th graders, a few who were going into the lodge for the first time. The grandfather of one of our students led the ceremony. I stopped by beforehand to see how the fire to heat the rocks was coming along. Mark, who works in the rec center, was the firekeeper. As the rocks heated up, one started to crackle and pop, which is dangerous in the small confined spaces. Since Mark has lots of experience, he culled that rock out with his pitchfork, and selected another that would be better. After the four rounds of prayer, everyone gathered for a traditional meal at Speyer Home.


Becoming role models

The work is progressing on our Akta Lakota Museum expansion. I spent a lengthy phone conversation reviewing some of the text panels for our displays that will tell the history of St. Joseph Indian School. I thought I knew a lot about our history from the books and journals I’ve read, but as alumni and workers fill in details, I’m learning more all the time.

In the classrooms during study hall, I noticed several 8th graders in the rooms helping younger children. The school has started a mentoring program for those students doing well and caught up. It gives them a chance to give something back and be a role model. It also helps the younger kids feel a sense of connection and a goal to reach for when they see older friends and relatives mastering the material.

I stopped in for supper at the Carola Home (high school boys). Mike, the houseparent had made his famous Texas fried chicken, with spuds and white gravy and sweet tea to wash it down. It’s one of the boys’ favorites, and rather than just eat and run, they sat around the table a bit longer to talk of school, sports, and give a good-natured teasing to one another – a good atmosphere in the house.