St. Joseph’s Indian School’s spelling bee

Fr. Steve and the kids participating in the Spelling Bee.
The Spelling Bee was challenging, but a lot of fun for everyone!

Our school gym was filled with our Native American students competing in the annual Spelling Bee. We have two sections of each grade, so earlier competition produced the three best spellers in each class. Fr. Anthony and I were the official word readers, and alternated between the grades. Spelling Bees tend to throw in some obscure and complicated words, some of which I had no clue what they meant or how to pronounce them. I was glad that Scripps sends along a definition and pronunciation guide. A few of the grades were quickly decided, but some went back and forth for many rounds. I felt sorry for the kids who knew how to spell the words but froze up in front of the crowd. A few of the younger students got a case of the giggles, which made it hard for them to concentrate. We cheered everyone on, win or lose. The winners now advance to the regional competition at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

I wandered around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus this morning checking out our building projects. Workers placed the 65 foot wooden beam on top of the Akta Lakota Museum expansion. Our own facilities crew is making steady progress on the Stevens and Matthias Home remodeling. One home is ready for the ceramic tiles to be laid in the bathroom and kitchen area. Even our heavy equipment garage is getting an upgrade – finally insulated after all these years. It will make it much easier to get the snow plow and tractor fired up on frigid mornings when they are most needed.

The Hogebach Home (high school girls) eat in shifts because everyone gets home from school, practice and work at different times. The houseparents filled me in on their comings and goings. As the students came home, I had a few moments to ask how each one was doing. Some of the students share readily and talk about many things. Others keep more to themselves. I try to engage them in topics I think they might want to share, listen attentively when they do speak and patiently accept the quiet when they don’t feel like saying much.

A daily routine with our high school girls

At some point during break, I found myself sitting on my couch thinking,

“It’s quiet around here. [Eyes shift about suspiciously].  Too quiet. [Pause.]  What are the kids up to?”

I’ve come to appreciate the rhythms of the daily routines with the kids, so although I enjoy my time off, I still look forward to starting up again after break.  It feels good to be back in the happy chaos of the high school homes as we all get settled back in.

We had so much fun singing, baking and laughing!
We had so much fun singing, baking and laughing!

We left off last year baking cookies and making ornaments with girls from the younger homes.  This involved Christmas carols, flour and frosting on the floor, and twiddly bits of glitter and goo gobs in the rug.  These are hallmarks of a really good day: singing and a medium-sized mess.

This was a departure from our usual after school routine, which is a jumble of snacks, charges, appointments and updates on the new topics at Chamberlain High School.

“I got all my assignments in!”  (Yeah! Good job!)

“What’s for dinner?  Can I go to McDonald’s?” (Chili, and no you may not.)

“Can I go to Central [Receiving]?  I need some black pants for work!”  (Yes, and sign yourself out.)

“I need to go to early school tomorrow to do my speech.” (Please e-mail Miles for a ride at 7:30.)

“I need $2 for class dues and 3 dozen cupcakes for tomorrow.”  (What  huh?)

All of this is accompanied by the pop/hip hop soundtrack of someone’s laptop playing full blast and the constant clicking of cell phone keys texting.

Morning routines are not quite so lively. They are more like a cheesy suspense novel. Everything starts off predictably slow, with sleepy-eyed prayers and bits of toast.  Then comes the rising action—the clock is ticking and our heroine is in a race against time to complete her mission before the bus arrives.  Will she get her charge done?  Will that bathroom sink pass inspection or will she have to go for a do-over?  The bus is out front with the lights flashing, as we bite our nails (and tongues, because nagging is just NOT going to save the day).  Will she find that Math book?   WILL HER HAIR LOOK OK??  Tune in and find out.

Singing and a medium sized mess!
Singing and a medium sized mess!

The best part of the day is still the short window of time between curfew and bedtime. Theoretically, we are winding down for the day.  We’ll have snacks and Sleepy Tea.  Prayers are one part of the day when we can usually have all the girls together for a few quiet cell-phone free minutes.  The girls usually have friends and family members that they want to pray for.  Sometimes they pray for better grades or snow days.  We have lists of intentions from benefactors that get added in as well.  It may sound a bit corny, but I really enjoy prayer time.  It’s a privilege to be able to talk about spirituality openly with the kids, and it makes for a positive end to our day.  Well, sort of.   Once bedtime actually arrives, we are back into chaos with everyone remembering “one last thing” that has to be done right now.  The next five minutes will be like herding frogs.

I find myself smiling when I remember these things.  I can’t wait to get caught up on all the news with the girls.  Best of all, today is present-wrapping day for the high school program.  This involves Christmas carols, pizza, tons of wrapping paper and tape. In other words: singing and a medium size mess.  We’re off to a great start!

Until next time,


Must be doing something right

St. Joseph's Indian School's Hogebach girls.
St. Joseph's Indian School's Hogebach girls.

Hello!  My name is Claire, and I work in both high school girls’ homes.  One question people often ask me is, “How can you do it?”  As a houseparent for 21 teenage girls, I used to ask myself that question a lot.  Literally.

My first year here my houseparent key was marked YB1, so every time I went to open the door to work, I was confronted with the question, “Why be one?”  Apparently after three and a half years, I have answered that question sufficiently well.  My key now reads YA1.  I figure if I can say, “Yay I’m one!” every day, I must be doing something right.

So how do I/we do it?  In some ways, we do what most parents do— we’re there when the kids get up in the morning and again when they go to bed at night.   We have to tell them they are beautiful enough, so please get out of the bathroom before they miss the bus.  We’re super fans, chauffeurs, cooks and coaches.  We share their prayers, troubles and triumphs.  Of course, most parents don’t have 10 teenage girls.  Then again, most parents don’t co-parent with 4-6 other people who get regularly breaks and who meet every week to talk about what we are doing and why.

The first step to houseparenting is to care.  Usually, that’s easy because we have such wonderful kids to work with.  Sometimes caring is hard—we have to care enough to let a kid be really angry in our presence, especially when it is not our fault and even when it is.  We have to care enough to swallow our pride and admit when we make mistakes.   We have to care enough to be curious when we don’t know what is going on with a kid.  We’ve have to care enough to let kids make mistakes and pay the price sometimes.

As houseparents, we have to get creative.  Whether that’s figuring out what to make for supper—knowing that this one hates onions and that one hates cheese—or finding a way to cook dinner, cheer on the basketball team, get homework done and have everyone into bed at a decent hour.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of knowing that this kid doesn’t want hugs but will accept a mug of tea (only one sugar, thank you).

What really makes houseparenting possible is our ability to really focus on our kids.  By this I mean, we don’t have to worry about medical bills, leaky faucets or running out of groceries.  As houseparents, we are supported by thousands of donors and an incredible staff that makes sure these needs are met every day.  We are careful stewards of course, and we track our budgets to make sure we are making wise use of our resources.  OK, so when we are WAY OVER budget for allowance because our kids are getting fantastic grades, we are all secretly gleeful.  And I don’t think donors will mind one bit.

So, thank you to all the people who make it possible for me to do the job I love.