Halloween festivities

This morning our high school staff hosted a farewell breakfast in the Hogebach Home for Shana, who has directed the High School Program for the past five years. Her husband got a promotion that moved the family to a different part of the state. In her time as director here, she and her staff found ways to increase our student GPA and retention rates, and see more go on to college. We plan to build on those successes and continue developing the programs and ideas she implemented. All the best to you in your new endeavors Shana!

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Halloween is one of the most exciting days to be a kid, especially when you get to dress up in costume all day. I toured the school and previewed the attire our Lakota students picked out for this whimsical holiday. Several of the teachers and staff also got into the spirit of the day and wore colorful and creative outfits, including Kathleen our principal, whose face was painted to make her look like a cat. After the initial giggles died down, everyone got down to work, and the quizzes, experiments and reading went on as normal.

There was no study hall as teachers went easy on tonight’s homework, so classes could dismiss a half hour early. Students put the finishing touches on their costumes and grabbed a bag for trick or treating. My office was one of several stops around campus. Those of us who work in central offices coordinate treats with our dining hall so we have some variety, and so the treats are fun but have some nutritional value. I passed out fruit roll ups. I wore a Fred Flintstone outfit, and with reruns of the classics, about half the kids knew who I was. The other half were fascinated by the big feet that came along with the costume.

We have two medical students from the University of South Dakota spending a few days on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus for a cross cultural experience. We put them to work right away lining up children for the costume contest. We gathered in the Rec Center where the students were split into categories of funniest, scariest and most creative according to each age group of homes. I wasn’t one of the judges this year, but one of my favorites was Bryante, a first grader dressed like Tinkerbelle. The judges agreed too, and she won first place. My favorite staff ensemble was a Little Mermaid trio, with two of our staff as Ursula and King Triton, and their daughter as Ariel.

Several families took part in the festivities, then checked their child out to take them trick or treating in town. A few of the homes, especially with younger kids, also made some rounds in town, since that’s part of the fun and allure of Halloween. At the end of the day, houseparents collect all the candy and treats so our students will snack a little at a time over the next couple of weeks.

Guest Blogger: Claire

Hi again!  My name is Claire, and I am a houseparent in the high school program. I’m excited to be back, starting my fifth year here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. This week is all-staff orientation.  Those of us that have been gone part of the summer rejoin our hard-working year-round colleagues for a week of training, refreshers and refocusing.  This can be pretty exciting, especially when we all arrive in chapel on Monday morning and someone holds up a “free hugs” sign.  Woo hoo!

We usually start off with smudging—the Lakota tradition of burning sage—which is a symbolic cleansing of our minds, hearts and bodies with the smoke.  This sets a prayerful space and atmosphere for our work together in the upcoming year.

Our orientation theme this year was “Nourishing Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit.”

How cool is that?

After all, we are not just about teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.  Our goal is to prepare kids for life outside of St. Joseph’s, so they can be strengthened by relationships, faith, a sense of culture and history, and skills for living.  In order to do that, we have to bring our whole selves into the equation—which is why we start the year with prayer, sage, free hugs and even some darn good bread which the Pastoral Care staff handed out.

A lot of this week is about remembering our mission, and focusing on what we hope to accomplish in the upcoming year.  For us houseparents, one challenge is to bring the oyate values outlined in our Circle of Courage into our daily routines.  Those values are: Belonging, Independence, Mastery and Generosity.

We all agree that we do a great job at building a sense of belonging.  We are very good at building relationships with our kids, their families and with each other.  We are turning our attention to other areas where we are not so strong.  Sometimes, in our efforts to build relationships, we end up doing too much for our kids, to the detriment of their sense of mastery, independence and generosity.  We had some serious and thoughtful discussions on how and where we can work on these areas.

Not all of orientation is fun, I will admit.  Our newly hired staff have already completed a full week of training, and their heads are about to explode with facts, figures, rules and guidelines.

Veteran staff members groan a bit when we get to the part that we have heard every year.  Over and over and over.  For those of you who are uninitiated in the joys of orientation, let me sum up Day Two as briefly as possible:

  Rule #1:  Treat your co-workers with respect.  Play Nice.

Rule #2:  If you make a mess, please clean it up.

Rule #3:  If the mess involves blood or other body fluids, use gloves.

Rule #4:  If the mess is on fire, call 911.

Rule #5:  If you can’t seem to follow Rule #1, make SURE you follow Rules #2-5.

I think I can manage that!

Thank you for continuing to hold the kids and staff at St.  Joseph’s in your prayers as we kick off the 2012-2013 school year.  So far, we’re off to a good start.




Who remembers standardized testing?

School was very quiet when I wandered over today. The reason – yearly standardized testing. In between, the students got breaks to engage in some fun projects. The art room had kids with watercolors and drawing pencils freelancing whatever they felt like drawing. In the Native American Studies classroom, the 8th graders were working on their graduation banner. The class of 2012 will feature a satin medicine wheel, and they were pinning the material in place before everyone, boys and girls alike, joined in to stitch the satin to the banner.

We’ve had great retention in the high school program this year – 38 of the 40 students who started the year are still with us. With some of our remodeling finishing up, we will be able to add another high school home in the fall, and increase our capacity for that age group to 50. Even so, we have more eighth grade applicants for the high school homes than we have beds. Several girls had to be put on the waiting list.

One of the 6th-8th grade homes made a proposal to keep the 8th grade girls where they are currently until another room opens up. A grandmother called me and was profoundly grateful that the granddaughter she is raising will be able to continue in the program.

I took some time with building projects today. I donned a hard hat and walked over to the Akta Lakota Museum to finalize a decision on the size of a wall.  Over the last couple of days we’ve gotten a couple of inches of wonderful, desperately needed, life-giving rain.  The down side was the moisture made the construction site a muddy mess. The souls of my shoes were two inches higher with mud when I walked back to the office. Also, we are in the process of purchasing the old grocery store downtown in order to expand our Thrift Store and give us much more storage space. We went over some plans and reports and took care of the needed paperwork.

After school, the track team members were on the football field running wind sprints. A couple of the shot putters lagged far behind the field. They rely on strength and not speed, though I tell them strong legs will help with both. The sun came out in the afternoon for a glorious 65 degree day, and soon the T-Ball and Softball fields were alive with activity and the friendly banter that characterizes a baseball game.