The first day of classes at St. Joseph’s

The first day of classes! I enjoyed looking out my office window and seeing the playground, full of laughter and playfulness again.

I waited until later in the day to make rounds of the classrooms. The teachers need some time to get students settled and organized. The first graders especially will take some time to feel at home here and get used to the routine. As I walked into each classroom, I had our returning students help me meet and greet our new kids. I welcomed them and worked on remembering a few more names. We still have a few students who haven’t arrived, but know they’re on their way. By the end of the week when our high school students return, we should have everyone in place.

For supper I joined the girls of Stevens Home (6th-8th grade). They are enjoying the brightness and spaciousness of our newest remodeling job. The five 8th grade girls remember living in the home two years ago before the upgrades, and proudly showed off what they had done with the new spaces. While few of the students particularly enjoy cleaning, the houseparents, Frank and Wanda, told me the students have a little more pride and put in a little extra elbow grease to keep things looking nice.

After school the houseparents took the girls to Central Receiving, where all the new clothing that generous donors have dropped off or mailed in has been sized and sorted. They got to “shop” for a half hour, and were showing off their fashion finds. They were especially pleased to find a nice, dressy outfit or two for “church clothes”.

As I walked back to my office, I saw groups of the younger children playing in Wisdom Circle. I noticed that a good-sized group of Dennis Home (1st-3rd grade girls) were seated at the picnic table. Three were on the bench, and four others were sitting on the table, hovering above them and combing their hair.

A fair number of kids have returned from summer with head lice. It’s so commonplace here that it isn’t embarrassing, but a back-to-school routine that we have to plan for. Their housemates were gently and carefully combing and pulling nits out of hair. It seemed to build a sense of care and community among the girls, and they were enjoying the great outdoors, talking and getting to know the new students.

A busy weekend at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Our weekend was filled with lots of activity. Friday evening, grades 1-5 gathered in the Rec Center for a Valentine’s Day Sobriety Carnival. Older students helped with the games, which included a fish pond, bean bag throw and ring toss, to name a few. We had lots of smaller prizes sent in by our donors, and the students were happy to win fun little knick-knacks, toys and games.

Lots of kids lined up at the cake walk, trying to win a small personal-sized cake. We joked that as many dill pickles as our Native American students buy at the concession stand during basketball games, we could try a pickle walk instead and it would be just as popular!

Fr. Steve, getting a heart face painted on his face!
Who doesn't love a little face paint?

One group of junior high girls staffed a face painting station, and many of the students got colorful temporary decorations to highlight their features. I got in the act and, since it is Valentine’s Day, (or maybe because I’m a Priest of the Sacred Heart), I got a bright red heart painted on my cheek.

After the younger students cleared out, grades 6-12 came back for a dance. Chris, a junior in high school, helped DJ. He pointed out to me that he’d edited a lot of the popular songs on his playlist so they could be marked with an asterisk denoting “clean,” meaning there was no inappropriate language.

Like many dances, boys spent most of the time on one side of the room, and girls on the other. A few brave souls occasionally ventured out. By the last two songs of the night, everyone wanted to dance, and  bemoaned the fact it was ending so early.

Saturday we hosted a four team 8th grade basketball tournament. St. Joseph’s won their first game. We played Pierre Indian Learning Center evenly in the first half of the championship game, but they caught fire in the third quarter and won going away. The Stevens Home (6th – 8th grade girls) made chili dogs and sloppy joes for the concession stand, along with some homemade baked goodies that were popular with players and fans alike. They’re saving up money to get a few extra fun things for their home.

The Summerlee Home (4th-5th grade girls) took a day trip to Sioux Falls and spent the day learning to ice skate. They came home a little sore, but with lots of giggles and laughter and are eager to try again soon.

Our local bowling alley has eight lanes, and St. Joseph’s had them all for a couple of hours Saturday night as the high school students had a bowling party. Some take the bowling more seriously than others, but all have a good time just hanging out. There was a 25 cent prize for each strike, and students pooled their money to pick songs to play on the juke box.

Saturday also brought another dance, this one in town, for 6th-8th grade students. Several of our boys have joined the local Explorers Club, which is a service organization that teaches them to become young gentlemen, and give back in service to the community. This dance was held at the public elementary school, and our students mingled well with peers from town. As our kids do more with Chamberlain children now, it starts to build relationships that will make the transition to public high school less scary for them later.

Sunday at church, Peter from the Raphael Home (1st-3rd grade boys) introduced me to our newest first grader, who just began this week. He told me the child was both excited and nervous because he had never been to church before, and didn’t quite know what to expect. His housemates helped him figure out when to stand and when to sit, and where to find prayers in the books, and it turned out okay.

Sunday afternoon, our junior high girls had two rounds of inter-city basketball. Afterwards, I hung around the gym when the younger grades came in for their recreation time. I worked with a couple of young girls on how to pass a basketball and shoot a layup, then took some time just walking around the gym and talking to the kids. Most of the time they seem me in black clerical attire, and they were fascinated to see me in sweat pants and shirt, learning that I do have other clothes!