Lots of activity on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus today. Despite freezing rain and treacherous icy roads, Chamberlain’s Chamber of Commerce hosted fourth, fifth and sixth grade girls basketball tournaments at the three gyms throughout town. St. Joseph’s hosted the sixth grade action. All of our teams got in three games to end the season. None of them won the championship, but all hustled and played hard.

Fr. Steve and Trenton chat at St. Joseph's Indian School's Christmas store.

Trenton and Fr. Steve talking about what he wrapped up for his family.

Today’s big event was the Christmas Store. All the children had a handful of tickets which they could use to “purchase” different items that donors have sent in. They picked up sweaters for grandpa and clothes for a baby sister, necklaces for mom or a stuffed animal for a younger brother. Once they loaded up their plastic garbage bags with a dozen items or so, they came to the skate room, where Santa Claus waited to greet them, and generous volunteers helped them wrap all the presents to take home and share with their loved ones. Staff also baked lots of Christmas goodies for snacks throughout the day. Each of the nineteen homes had about 20 minutes to do their shopping before the next group came in. The kids are excited and look forward to it, and staff enter into the spirit of the season. Several high school students also helped decorate the room and wrap presents, teaching them to give back to their younger relatives.

Tonight the Chamberlain Area Churches Choir performed a lovely Christmas Cantata in our Chapel. I sat next to the Rooney Home boys (6th-8th grades) but didn’t see any other Lakota students in the church. I was feeling bad that more of the kids couldn’t enjoy the lively harmonies and inspiring message. The Cantata was close to our primary students’ bedtime, so I understood. But then, I heard clapping coming from the choir loft. There was a lively group upstairs, wearing pajamas and bath robes, so they could go right from church to bedtime when all was finished!

There are advantages to having lots of connecting walk ways on our campus. And the choir seemed tickled and appreciative that our students were able to participate.

The William Home girls (4th-5th grade) held their annual holiday open house. The houseparents must have practiced some of questions with the girls so they could be good hostesses and work on social skills. Throughout my visit several of the girls asked me:

  • May I take your coat?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Can I get you anything else?
  • How was your day?

From the moment they took my coat until the time I left, they were most gracious. Frederika sliced the cheese and sausage and wanted to know if it looked crooked. Trinity wondered how the cookies tasted since she baked them. One of the girls was featured on this year’s Christmas cards, and her face beamed with delight when I brought her a pile to share with her family and friends.

National Family Week is an annual event recognized each Thanksgiving week that celebrates the family and its value to society.  The theme for National Family Week is Connections Count, recognizing that strong families are at the center of strong communities.  Children live better lives when their families are strong!

At our celebration this year, we tried things a little differently.  Instead of dividing the student families up into the homes, we had all of the students gather at the Dining Hall here on campus.  Students sat at their family table.  They made a poster, writing down all the things they were thankful for and then colored it as a family.  Students also received a Christmas ornament on which they each wrote their names.

There was much laughter and talking throughout the early evening.  After their poster was complete, they enjoyed dinner together.  They enjoyed spending time with their family.  After dinner, everyone played Bingo.

All in all, the night was a great success! The students left with gifts to take home for their families and food gift cards to use for their Thanksgiving celebration.

The first significant snow of the winter blanketed our campus in white. It began with a couple of inches on Friday, another couple Saturday morning and about 5 more inches overnight. While the kids were riding bikes just a few days ago, this weekend they dug out the sleds and snowboards and saw who could make the longest slide down the hill to the football field. With strong winds and cold temperatures today’s powdery snow drifted thigh high in some places around campus. But with the morning light our crew was out in force clearing a path for students and staff, in vehicles or on foot.

The Native American girls did great dancing!

The girls did great!

We gathered in church more often than our usual weekend. Saturday morning is usually a bit of a sleep in day, but the Immaculate Conception Holy Day found a sleepier than normal group of Lakota students in the pews. St. Joseph’s regular Sunday mass is at 10:00. This morning we also added an 8:30 mass so the girls participating in the Dancing Dolls recital would enough time to get ready for their show without rushing. I rather enjoyed the more intimate, homogenous group to pray with and preach to. It’s hard to find messages that resonate well week after week with both first graders and high school seniors. Today I had a group of about 30 girls in 1st – 5th grades. In a dialogue homily style, I got them to tell me about their dance practice and preparation, and make the connection between getting ready for a big event like that and getting ready for the Lord as we enter more deeply into Advent.

Snow and ice closed the Interstate between Sioux Falls and Chamberlain and kept some of the crowd down, but the Dancing Dolls and Dudes performance was lively and fun anyway. The preschoolers are always the most heartwarming, doing simple steps and movements. The older kids have a little more razzle dazzle. And every grandparent in town vied for the front row and a good picture taking vantage.

As my own pride swelled seeing our St. Joseph students performing, I had a good idea of how grandparents might feel. The fruits of the kids dedicated practices showed. We’re grateful for the people in town who volunteer to organize the program every year, and give our students the exposure to fine arts and a fun opportunity.

Happy birthday Fr. Gary!

Happy birthday Fr. Gary!

77 year old Fr. Gary is a retired SCJ, part of our Chamberlain community. For his birthday we treated him to lunch downtown at the Anchor Grill. Santa Claus was making the rounds of local businesses and stopped by our table to pose for a mug shot and wish him the best. (He knows if we’ve been naughty or nice, but isn’t telling). Happy Birthday Fr. Gary!

Placing the finished box of staff Christmas cards on Carma’s desk in payroll gave me a feeling of freedom. I could just sign my name and be done quickly, but I try to write a personal note to each because everyone here has an important role to play in making a difference in the lives of our Lakota students. I feel blessed and grateful to be surrounded by so many passionate, creative, hard working folks with lots of ideas and the knack for following through to make things happen. My next task will have to be attending to the incoming pile of Christmas cards growing on my desk . We hear from lots of donors this time of year, and I’m humbled by their generosity.

Last night the five high school homes had their community meeting and announced who gets possession of the traveling academic trophies. The boys of Carola Home not only retained the trophy for the least missing assignment, but passed the Hogebach girls for the highest GPA. Hogebach had the trophy on a shelf near their dining room table. When I walked by the boys home this morning, I saw both trophies sitting in the window, out there for everyone to notice. That kind of pride and competition is OK in my book, and hope that our Native American students continue to push each other to learn and grow to their potential.

This past mid-term, five of our boys were on the honor roll and two were very close, which is awesome for freshman.  We call that success!!

This past mid-term, five of our boys were on the honor roll and two were very close, which is awesome for freshman. We call that success!!

Hey everyone, this is Mike and April from the Carola Home.

This time of year our boys are balancing school and athletics as well as preparing to go home for the holidays. This can be an overwhelming time for all the boys, but especially the freshman.

Freshmen have already been adjusting to new houseparents, new school, new curriculum and new friends. Our four Juniors have had a couple of years to learn what works for them to succeed in all areas.  However, our three Freshmen still have a lot to learn and this is usually the hardest time of their high school years.

Thankfully, our Juniors have taken our Freshmen under their wings and given them advice on how to deal with homework – number one being do not get behind with missing assignments – classes and teachers, where to go and who you may have to be extra nice to. :) And of course advice on their houseparents – don’t try that, they won’t let you get away with this, handle your business and they won’t make it theirs.

Each student has their own ways to succeed and all seven of our boys are doing just that, succeeding. With all that high school life brings to offer our boys, they are doing an amazing job keeping up with it all.

In our eyes my boys are all number one!!!!

In our eyes my boys are all number one!!!!

St. Joseph’s gives the boys a lot of support with the learning center, which is run by our High School Academic Advisor, Steve. Steve works with Chamberlain High School to help them with their homework.  Our Transitional Specialist, Pam, helps our Juniors with upcoming college trips and helps them plan for the future after St. Joseph’s.

Basketball season has started with Errol, Cody, William and Kyle playing for the Chamberlain Cubs. Our home will be attending many games in the next couple of months to support their fellow classmates.

Shawn is involved in CHS’s Wrestling Team.  We also have one student Dean, who has been actively preparing for the past several weeks to attend LNI (the Lakota Nation Invitational), to participate in the Knowledge Bowl Competition. Trey, one of our Freshmen, is not in any sports. He thought it would be best to give all his focus on his schoolwork, so he can continue his streak of no missing assignments and A honor roll.

We had a couple of funerals the past two days that affected many people on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. Yesterday, a teenager who was a student at St. Joseph’s a couple of years ago, was laid to rest on the Crow Creek Indian reservation. She has a couple of siblings still here at St. Joseph’s and lots of cousins. We had about 15 students checked out to be with family during these sad days. Several homes made their presence felt at the wakes over the weekend. Shauntae and her family are in all our prayers.

Richard was one of our custodians until his battle with cancer made it necessary to quit work and focus full-time on treatment. He fought a long and courageous battle, but he too died this past week. His wife Mary still works at St. Joseph’s. I noticed a good crowd of co-workers that showed their support during the wake and funeral.

We get many letters each day from people who ask us to pray for them during their time of grief and loss. It’s a part of the human condition none of us escape. My prayer is that those who mourn will know the care and support of people around them to help get through the days of darkness. While it can be difficult to find words of comfort, a simple presence at wakes and funerals speaks loudly by itself.

Our high school students are starting to hear back from colleges they are applying for. Chris got an acceptance letter from Dakota State University today. He joins Elijah (U of Kansas) and LaToya (Presentation College in Aberdeen) as they plan for their post St. Joseph future. Other seniors are still waiting to hear from schools of their choice – appropriate during this Advent season of patient and hopeful waiting with expectation.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells"

“Jingle bells, jingle bells”

I walked by the music room and heard the sound of three beginning clarinet players working hard to get the sounds of Jingle Bells in time with the teacher’s lead and in harmony with one another. They are preparing to play in the Christmas recital on December 19th. In encouraged them to keep practicing, and look forward to hearing how they do in two weeks’ time.

Our Human Resources Department organized our holiday tradition called “Sweet Sampling.” Staff brought a variety of colorful, scrumptious Christmas goodies to the skate room and folks dropped by throughout the day for treats at break times.  Recipes were left by each platter for people to try on their own for the items they especially enjoyed. I can tell that our push on wellness is also making inroads. The tables were also laden with fresh fruit as an alternative, and I saw recipes for Weight Watchers Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge and 50 – Calorie Chocolate Toffee Puffs. HR also passed out cute homemade cookie cutter ornaments to get people in the holiday mood.

My 6th grade class at work.

Hi!  I am Linea and I teach sixth, seventh and eighth grade reading at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  For the past nine weeks, we have been reading nonfiction stories, including biographies, autobiographies memoirs and historical nonfiction.

We are working on understanding the elements of tone, setting, characters and conflicts, and how they affect nonfiction.  We are also learning how to determine fact from opinion.   It is enlightening to see how nonfiction can grab their interest as well as fiction, and encouraging to see them relate different stories to their own experiences.

Our goal is to help the students comprehend information and make it a little bit fun at the same time!

Last night I met with Elijah and Shawn, two of our high school boys who were excited to be chosen to represent St. Joseph at an upcoming donor appreciation luncheon in Sarasota Florida come January. They were also a little worn out, since they are trying out for the Chamberlain Cubs basketball team, and just came home from practice. In fact, this week they’ve had two practices daily, one at 6 a.m. and one right after school.

I caught them in between supper and their Sons of Tradition meeting, where they meet with their Family Service Counselors to learn more about Lakota culture and take part in a talking circle to share issues that face them in their awkward adolescent years. The Daughters of Tradition group took part in an inipisweat lodge which I heard was well received.

Once the boys left for their session, I had time for conversation with Tim and Jessica, who started as houseparents in August. It is a big adjustment, and they work in two different homes for three days each. Another huge adjustment is raising a new baby – Lilya is now three months old. I’m around children all the time, but not that often lately with one so young. While the parents ate, I held the baby on my knee, and got along quite well. Every child deserves to be loved and nurtured, and that’s a main goal with all our students. Some need some extra care and attention, especially if they weren’t fortunate to have a stable and nurturing early childhood.

Our Pastoral Care group met today to finalize some details about Advent, which starts on Sunday. It seems odd when it doesn’t begin right after Thanksgiving. With many Christmas decorations already up, we still want to create an atmosphere of hopeful, patient waiting. We also looked ahead to our sacramental preparation. We expect to have about 25 students, a good number of whom are also preparing for baptism and confirmation.

Tonight was the last home game for our fifth and sixth grade girls basketball teams. Our opponents were from the Pierre Indian Learning Center. The fifth grade girls had the fast break going, and the game was never close, with a 31-12 final. Both Justina and Kendra scored in double figures. The sixth grade game was a low scoring defensive struggle. When the PILC Warriors tied the game at 11 with two minutes to go, some of us were thinking it might take an overtime or two before somebody scored again. But Mary got fouled on the drive and made both ends of a one and one free throw chance, and our Braves prevailed.

With girls ages 10 – 12, the improvement you see over a short time is remarkable. Looking back over the first few games, many weren’t sure where to stand or what to do with the ball once they got it. I noticed little things that start to make a difference – how to move without the ball, how to box out for a rebound. Our coaches’ patience and persistence is paying off. I hope our kids learn that lesson in all of life.

This month has been very busy here at St. Joseph’s!

With Thanksgiving just past, we have much to be thankful for. Our Lakota students are continually progressing in their studies and the weather (even the chilly parts) is not bad for this time of year. We are grateful for those friends who have come and gone from our lives, and for the multitude of blessings that our Creator has given us.

In the Special Education Department, we are assisting in the classrooms with those students who require our services and others who are working on the same concepts. This is going well, as the students get the individual or small group help they so need to be successful.

Another highlight is that the students are beginning to ask for help and taking on the responsibility of their own learning. As a teacher, this is what we hope for!

It is so fun to see the light spark and shine in their eyes! We have many people who are willing to take the extra time with our students.

The students now see this as a positive! It takes a while to earn trust, but when it happens, it is truly a blessing.

So count your blessings each and every day – no matter how small. They all add up to something great.

The students here at St. Joseph’s Indian School are a blessing to all of us working with them!

Did I remember to say how much I LOVE it here?!?!

Have a very blessed Christmas Season and a Merry and Happy New Year!!!!

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