Four From St. Joseph’s Indian School Receive National Honors

Posted on: October 12, 2022

The ability to connect with others, each in their unique way, is the gift shared by four from St. Joseph’s Indian School that made them standouts to win Catherine Hershey National Awards. The awards were announced at the Coalition on Residential Excellence (CORE) Banquet at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Penn., Wednesday, October 12, 2022. They were among only seven honored with awards nationally.

David and Tia Fontenot of the school’s High School Program received “Houseparents of the Year.” Annie Schoenhard, a second grade teacher, was honored as “Educator of the Year,” and recent graduate ShyAnne Jumping Eagle was named “Student of the Year.”

Jumping Eagle’s nomination says she connects through wówačhaŋtognake – a core value of the Lakota. It means sharing not only material goods but also heart, comfort and support. Her Family Service Counselor Darcy Belitz said, “She has a glowing smile that warms your heart.” Belitz added that in Jumping Eagle’s work as a CNA, her gentle presence and compassion assured residents that she was there to care for them and lend a listening ear. Jumping Eagle continues to work as a CNA, and she plans to further her healthcare education after gaining more experience.

Jumping Eagle used a new skill, sewing, to connect with family. Belitz organized sewing bees to teach the high school girls how to make ribbon skirts, which are historical and traditional clothing for Indigenous women. After making her first ribbon skirt, Jumping Eagle sewed a ribbon shirt for her toddler nephew and a ribbon skirt for her sister, her nephew’s mother.

Quiet and humble, Jumping Eagle was the connector with other girls in the high school program. “Many of the younger girls decided to go out for sports because they knew she was there to support and encourage them,” Belitz explained. “She persisted year after year.”

The Fontenot’s nomination described the couple as going “above and beyond,” making connections in various ways, but perhaps none more significant than their Louisiana-bred hospitality and Tia’s excellent cooking. She knows every student’s favorite food and uses it to build relationships and express love.

In another example of connection, when the darkness of grief fell over the girls’ home because of the pandemic and suicide, the couple purchased memorial lanterns for each girl, helped them fill them with prayers, notes and special memories, and lit and launched them at a predawn ceremony on the Missouri River. It was a lesson about how we depend on each other when we are vulnerable.

Despite the myriad ways the couple goes above and beyond for the students in their care, they maintain strong connections in the community, supporting countless high school extracurricular activities during their time off, providing meals for families in need and staying active in their faith family.

Schoenhard’s nomination for “Educator of the Year” notes, “Connection is a priority with Annie” and describes her as a teacher who wants her students to feel at home, safe and nurtured. Principal Sharmel Olsen adds, “When one approach isn’t working well with a student, Annie finds another. She is patient, flexible and understanding with every child. Her students feel seen, heard and valued.”

Schoenhard connects not only with her own students but also builds camaraderie in the first through third-grade community. For school-year-end fun, she organized the classes in rows, each child with a bucket. The first child in each row had water in their bucket, and the goal was to pass the bucket overhead, pouring water into the child’s bucket behind them without spilling or turning around. She planned the bucket-brigade experience for the connections built through laughter and teamwork.

The Chamberlain community is a better place for the many connections Schoenhard makes through the booster club, brownie scouts, fireman’s auxiliary, her church and more.

St. Joseph’s Indian School salutes these four remarkable people who build powerful connections in the school community and community at large.