St. Joseph’s Indian School Meets Weather Head On

Posted on: December 29, 2022

When the Grinch tried to steal Christmas from St. Joseph’s Indian School, he met his match and more. Like so many resilient South Dakotans, the school’s staff and students rose above in memorable ways this holiday season.

As a residential facility, school closures are extremely rare. Around-the-clock staffing to best meet student needs generally means St. Joseph’s is a 24/7 operation. Mother Nature had other plans that caused road closures and made travel for out-of-town and some local staff impossible. Beginning December 14, the school endured 96 hours of closure, requiring previously unscheduled staffing.

That’s when semester-weary houseparents, awaiting a well-earned break, were the first to stand up to the Grinch’s attempt. Demonstrating “superhero-strength powers” of understanding and willingness, staff worked up to as many as 81 hours of overtime to meet coverage needs. Some staff members could not travel home, while other local staff filled in for those unable to get to campus. Support staff opened the campus Grocery for extra hours to accommodate campus-bound staff and students who hadn’t planned so many extra meals. “To a person, we were a team with everyone pitching in cheerfully to get through,” said Deanna Handel, 1 – 6 Grade Residential Director.

On the employee-satisfaction front, the pandemic meant staff hadn’t celebrated an all-staff Christmas party for the past two years. December 16 was going to change that with an enjoyable meal at Arrowwood Resort, camaraderie and entertainment. “Not so,” said the Grinch. By Saturday evening, the postponed event had to be canceled. Rallying strongly with Christmas Spirit, St. Joseph’s asked the resort to box up the feast, and staff members delivered the delicious meals to the snowbound students and staff on campus. Take that, Mr. Grinch.

December 16 was also planned as the day students would be transported back home for the holidays. Residential staff became expert storm trackers, scheduling and rescheduling the transportation that involves three routes (Pierre/Eagle Butte/Mobridge/Bismarck, Wagner/Mitchell/Sioux Falls, and Winner/Mission/Rosebud/Pine Ridge) and nine staff who crisscross the state to bring students safely home for the holidays. What could have been a scheduling and communication nightmare ran as “smooth as ice” with assistance from the Counseling Services Department, which reached out to parents and families throughout the storm to keep them appraised.

Recoiling at his failed attempts to destroy the holidays, Mr. Grinch struck in the school building, perhaps thinking his mischief would go uncaught over the holiday break. First, he took out a fire sprinkler in one of the campus residences, flooding the kitchen. He doubled his efforts on Christmas Day, rupturing a pipe in the school’s basement, filling it with thousands of gallons of water and leaving many areas under three inches. Facilities staff and volunteers did catch on, found the source of the leak, fixed it, moved materials to dry locations and vacuumed up the mess. And to the Grinch’s dismay – all on Christmas Day with smiles and without complaint.

St. Joe’s staff, students and families endured the storm with characteristic strength and teamwork. Until next year, Mr. Grinch, or do you realize you have met your match?