Strong Family Connections Vital St. Joseph’s

Posted on: March 11, 2024

Keeping family connections strong is a priority at St. Joseph’s Indian School, and it plays out in various programs and relationships from the day-to-day conversations between houseparents, family service counselors and other staff with guardians to the campus housing available to make family gatherings easy. So, when Principal Sharmel Olson and other members of the school Administration and Child Services Team set out to plan this spring’s parent/teacher conferences, it was a natural step to try to incorporate as much connectivity as possible.

Family-focused events of March 7 started with gathering the Parent Advisory Committee.

To keep family involvement front-and-center in students’ education and growth, St. Joe’s relies on this group of parents and guardians to provide insight and feedback on programs, services and challenges. The group advises on crucial areas like high school education, cultural sensitivity, new programs, alumni initiatives and other issues students face.

The afternoon began with an annual favorite arranged by third-grade teachers Melissa McDonald and Jen Overweg: the Wax Museum. Students wear period clothing related to a historical figure of their choice. They study their person and prepare to act the part. When prompted by the push of a button, the mannequin-still students come to life and recite their biographies.

Crazy Horse, Amelia Earhart, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ruby Bridges and Jackie Robinson were all on hand. Truth Quick Bear said his favorite part was dressing up like Crazy Horse. Amira Skunk said for her the best part was telling people about contemporary African American civil rights activist Ruby Bridges.

But there was more talent on display as visiting families moved through the afternoon hours. They watched science on display in the eighth-grade roller coaster demonstration and fifth-graders unlocked the mysteries of the solar system. First-through-fourth-grade honor choir members were on-hand next to enchant with some musical selections. And finally, before the beginning of conferences, the school day came to a crescendo with archery students demonstrating their precision in the gym, followed by a song from the school’s drum group,  the Pahá Makȟásaŋ Lowáŋpi (Chalk Hills Singers).

Conferences this year were enjoyed in the intimacy of the classroom setting rather than around the large open Rec Center. The opportunity allowed family members to experience their student’s daily environment. Shortly after conferences began, dietary staff laid out a dinner spread of pulled pork sandwiches and potato salad in the school gymnasium for families to enjoy between meetings and the evening’s approaching finale.

And what was that? The annual Spring Dancing Dolls and Dudes Recital coincided with conferences and brought the day to a smashing close. Some 52 of the grade school’s students from nearly every grade kicked up their heels to demonstrate what hours of practice do. Students reap the benefits of skill and confidence through the dance group, and many of their suggestions become part of the final program.

Principal Sharmel Olson was pleased with the turnout, saying, “We truly appreciate the time families take to come, sometimes from long distances, to support the students by attending presentations and visiting with teachers so we work as a team to support their educational goals. Fifty-six percent of students had family members who attended the day.