Five from St. Joseph’s Indian School Win National Awards

Posted on: September 19, 2023

Caring for community is a value of five 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) Luncheon at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Oacoma, S.D. on Tuesday, September 19. They were among thirteen honored with awards nationally. St. Joseph’s Indian School hosted the national conference this year.

The school’s President Mike Tyrell received the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Robbie and Stephen Chatman were named “Houseparents of the Year.” Librarian Claire Nehring was honored as “Educator of the Year,” and recent graduate Mariah Quigley was awarded “Student of the Year.” 

Tyrell was originally nominated for Administrator of the Year, but the selection committee upon receiving two outstanding nominations in that category, bestowed Lifetime Achievement Awards to acknowledge excellence in both nominees. Also receiving the award was Bill Frye of Florida Sherriff’s Youth Ranch.

Tyrell’s nomination drew on the two narratives that tell the story of his career at the school. The first, “Detour Home,” is a semi-fictional account written and published by Tyrell in 2022 about his and wife, Kim’s, first year as houseparents at the school. The other is the ten-year strategic plan created by Tyrell and staff during the pandemic. The plan demonstrates the organization’s solid standing and path into the future. Its goals illustrate Tyrell’s dedication to the school and larger community, and how the school shares its expertise with a national audience to improve residential education. 

Quigley’s nomination describes the young woman as a student of life who foremost understands the elegance in simplicity. In a world that hasn’t always come easy, Quigley keeps it simple, and in doing so has a unique aspect that touches everyone around her. For example, as a junior, after years of listening to how other students disliked doing dishes, Quigley volunteered to do the chore every night. She knew how the negativity brought the mood down in the home community, and said she had learned to enjoy this simple task. 

Julie Lepkowski, Quigley’s mentor, describes her as “a quiet leader who smiles and responds naturally to any situation.” She adds, “She is not a shrinking violet, though,” noting that Quigley doesn’t stand for things she disapproves of and doesn’t go with the crowd or cave into temptation. During her 13 years at St. Joe’s, she never had an incident that resulted in a restriction of privileges. Quigley now attends Mitchell Technical College working toward an IT degree.

The Chatman’s nomination described the couple’s “Lessez les bon temps rouler”* vibe that turns any circumstance into a good time because of their ability to make it so. Their approach brings a sense of community to their work with students and other staff. 

Always brimming with Louisiana-bred hospitality, the Chatmans host an annual Thanksgiving event for other houseparents and include support staff and teachers. They understand that connection is “king” when developing a positive environment for the home they shepherd, and extend this to include the parents and guardians who are part of their students’ lives. Residential Coordinator Sean Johnson regularly receives comments from families that they feel welcome. 

And when the times aren’t so good, the Chatmans find ways to step in with goodness that buoys spirits and fills gaps. When one student’s grandfather was in long-term hospital care, they made sure the child had weekly visits with him. Whether it is subbing in various roles across campus, volunteering on the school’s bookmobile outreach or helping out in their church or neighborhood, the couple steps up to build community in countless ways. 

Nehring’s nomination for “Educator of the Year” notes the imaginative spirit she brings to making the library a community of learning. She incorporates large stuffed animals – an alligator, bee, lion, elephant shark and more –  for fidgety students to cuddle while drifting into the world between book covers. Tea parties and sushi days amp up the energy she uses to unlock the power of young minds. Her students even write and publish their own books, which Nehring dutifully catalogs and has on the shelves for other students to read.

As a faculty member, Nehring is valued for her willingness to support other staff in any capacity and collaborate for the greater good. No less generous off-the-clock, she sews, knits and weaves with interested students. During the summer months, she applies her love of books by working more than half of the routes on the school’s bookmobile, helping stock, organize and shelve books, and assisting visitors to pick out books that match their reading level and interests.  

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

*Let the good times roll is an oft-used Louisiana expression.