In this month’s “Ministry of the Month” we are featuring De La Salle Blackfeet School (DLSBS) in Browning, Montana, a Midwest District ministry. There are five LVs serving there this year: second-year LVs Regina Bettag, a graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and Katie DeMasi, a graduate of Saint Anselm College; and first-year LVs Jessica Bauer, a graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Maeve Hughes, a graduate of La Salle University, and Zack Wojcik, a graduate of Florida State University.
What is De La Salle Blackfeet School?
De La Salle Blackfeet School is a Lasallian San Miguel school that serves fourth through eighth-grade boys and girls who live on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning. The school is dedicated to creating an environment that recognizes God’s presence and nurtures the dignity of each student within a supportive community of teachers, parents and guardians. The innovative, student-centered curriculum uses culturally sensitive methods to nurture each student’s imagination and creativity while challenging them to develop critical thinking and academic skills in the areas of reading, writing and math. The school keeps classes small with a maximum of 16 students. Students have an extended day from 8:15 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. with plenty of experiential enrichment, sports activities, and a weekly Blackfeet Studies class that imparts to students a strong sense of their cultural heritage.
What roles do the LVs fill at De La Salle Blackfeet School?
The roles the LVs fill at DLSBS cannot simply be put into simple terms such as “5th grade teacher.” Their roles are all encompassing as educators inside and out of the classroom. Not only do they serve as classroom teachers for specific subjects, but they also serve as coaches, mentors, tutors, breakfast and lunch moderators and more.
Why did you become an LV?
“This past May I had the opportunity to go on an immersion trip* to the De La Salle Blackfeet School,” shares Hughes. “During my week I met the most amazing students and community. At that time, I was graduating and did not know what I was going to do upon graduation. On the last day before I left to go back home, one of the teachers put into my head the idea of actually coming back and teaching at the school. When I got home from the trip my mom mentioned the same possibility. My brother-in-law even looked up when the application was due for LVs, and that day I filled out the school’s volunteer info request, as well as I started the LV application. Brother Dale Mooney, president of DLSBS, responded to my inquiry and said that a math teacher was needed. I thought to myself this would be perfect since math was the majority of what I tutored in college. Overall, I became an LV because of the amazingly smart and funny children at the De La Salle Blackfeet School. I really wanted to teach at DLSBS, and Lasallian Volunteers gave me an opportunity to do so.”
What is the most challenging obstacle students face and how do we empower them?
DeMasi shares, “Our students face a variety of issues all stemming from the systematic oppression of the American Indian. This has led to current reservation issues, including violence and substance abuse. At De La Salle Blackfeet School, we recognize that our students may be directly impacted by these issues every day. However, the Blackfeet people are resilient. They are strong in their Catholic faith as well as traditional practices. By encouraging our students to learn about both their Blackfeet culture and Catholic identity, it is our hope that they will one day become leaders in their Blackfeet community and beyond.”
What is the most important thing your students need from you?
“The most important thing the students need is to have someone to highlight and help them cultivate the beauty they already have within themselves. The students have so many varied and wonderful gifts: kindness, creativity, compassion, etc. However, sometimes they don’t see those things within themselves,” shares Bettag. “If others take the time to listen and come to know the students, then they can genuinely recognize, appreciate and highlight the goodness in these kids. In turn, by having someone else recognize their beauty and worth, the students come to recognize those very things within themselves.”
Bettag continues, “If they rest in this fact, that they are lovable and so worthy of love, they are then empowered! They are empowered to seek explore, fail, grow and hone their beautiful attributes to help them and grow as a person and in love. When it comes to what I provide, it is simply the ability to listen. When I say that I don’t mean just listening to what they have to say, but taking note of what is important to them, how they are doing, cultivating a relationship. I can’t see the beauty if I don’t take the time to look and be open to it. It is a wonderful, ever-occurring process and sometimes more nuanced than I’d imagine, but oh so worth it.”
How have the Brothers changed you?
Wojcik is in his second year of teaching at DLSBS. He joined the LV program to receive additional support from the accompaniment the LV program gives and to grow in the Lasallian charism. In reflecting on how the Brothers have changed his life, he shares, “The Brothers have made a huge impact on the person I am today (and it has only been a little over a year!). Brother Jim Krause and Brother Dale Mooney are models of hard work. The way they handle a full day of school with all of its trials and tribulations and then follow it up with their household chores, letter writing and community socializing have inspired me to step up to the table. I put all my effort into everyday because the perfect examples are right in front of me. I want to give all I have to the community and the kids, and the Brothers show me how. The two of them are also filled with such so much joy. They are sassy, jubilant, deep-thinking men that have made me feel so comfortable. They are both blessings in my life as well as wonderful friends. Brother Jim is my guitar teacher and political advisor, and Brother Dale is my gym buddy and mentor. Thank God for the Brothers.”
What advice would you give a college senior who is discerning a service year?
In Bauer’s reflection of discerning to do a year of service upon graduation, she shared, “Post-graduate service is a unique opportunity that every college senior should consider, but where do you start? There are so many amazing programs that exist and an overwhelming amount of types of service you can do. If you are discerning post-graduate service, start with creating a list of things you want. What type of service are you looking for? Do you want to be in a faith-based program? How long do you want to serve for? Where do you want to serve? What do you hope to gain from serving? How much support does the program provide? These questions will guide you in determining the best fit for you! Once you identify what experience you are looking for, look at volunteer programs and their various mission statements. These tell you what the program is about and can give you an idea of what they are seeking to accomplish in their work. If they resonate with you, research more about the program. Finally, talk to family, friends, co-workers, or anyone who knows you well, and ask if they can see you in that ministry. Take the time to pray about the program and imagine yourself in that place. If there is an opportunity to visit the site, do it! The best way to know if a shoe fits, is to try it on. This applies to ministry as well. The only way to truly know if a program is right for you, is to go and visit. This gives you a chance to meet the people you will be working with, see the place you will be serving and living, and get a feel for the community you will be a part of. As a current volunteer, the question that ultimately helped me in making my decision was ‘why not?’ Volunteering is a beautiful and enriching opportunity. It provides real experience, and you will find yourself transformed in the process.”
*Many Lasallian Volunteers who come to serve in Browning, Montana, as well as the program as whole, have experienced a weeklong immersion trip to De La Salle Blackfeet School as part of the school’s OKI-NI-SOO-KA-WA (Come and See) Blackfeet Immersion. This immersion opportunity provides the participants with an intercultural experience that invites students and teachers to affirm a common bond among all peoples as children of God and challenges perceived boundaries between oneself and others as well as oneself and God. The OKI-NI-SOO-KA-WA Blackfeet Immersion experience includes direct contact with the people of the Blackfeet American Indian Reservation as well as prayer and reflection, all in the context of community, simplicity and service learning. The OKI-NI-SOO-KA-WA Blackfeet Immersion program is one of the Beyond the Borders initiatives of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Beyond the Borders is a response to reach those in need, one that is rooted in mission and history, influenced by Pope Francis, and grounded in calls from the 45th General Chapter. The Beyond the Borders initiatives, promoted by the Institute’s Solidarity and Development Secretariat, are projects located throughout the world that serve those most in need.