May: De La Salle Blackfeet School

In this month’s “Ministry of the Month” we are featuring De La Salle Blackfeet School (DLSBS) in Browning, Montana, a Midwest District ministry. Four LVs are serving there this year: third-year LV Regina Bettag, a graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; second-year LVs Jessica Bauer, a graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and Maeve Hughes, a graduate of La Salle University; and first-year LV Joseph Jimenez, a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.

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 be put into simple terms such as “fifth 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 also as coaches, mentors, tutors, breakfast and lunch moderators, and more.

Maeve shares, “I teach fifth grade math and science, seventh grade math, and eighth grade math and health and wellness. I am also a co-homeroom teacher for the eighth grade. As well as teaching, I am the head coach for both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.”

“I teach fourth grade health and wellness, sixth grade social studies, and math for sixth grade and eighth grade. I am also a co-homeroom teacher for seventh grade,” shares Joseph.

Regina shared, “I teach fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade science, eighth grade religion, and am a co-homeroom teacher for the eighth grade. I also have the opportunity to help as an assistant with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.”

“I teach fifth grade reading/language arts and health and wellness, and seventh grade religion and social studies. I am also the fifth grade homeroom teacher,” shares Jessica.

Why did you become an LV?

Maeve shares, “I became a Lasallian Volunteer probably for a little different reason than most. I wanted to teach at De La Salle Blackfeet School after graduation, and Lasallian Volunteers was the perfect avenue for me to do this. The amazing students at De La Salle Blackfeet School are the reason why I wanted to become an LV. After going on an immersion trip here and meeting the students and staff, I felt like this was the right choice for me.”

Which of the core values (faith, service and community) is most important to you? Why?

Joseph shares, “Of the three core values, community is the most important value to me. My life experiences have taught me how much of an impact relationships make. The support of my friends and family within my community has helped shape me into the person that I am today. Moving out to Montana has helped me become a supportive figure for the people within my community, especially my students.” 

What is the most challenging obstacle students face, and how do we empower them?

“I think the most challenging obstacle that our students face is the longing to feel loved and the difficulty that it can be in discovering their worthiness of love,” shares Regina. “Certainly, middle school is a time when many students are asking big questions, trying to discover who they are, where they might fit in, or where their worth comes from, but these questions are often exacerbated due to the individual experiences students may face such as instability in households, food insecurity and the historical trauma the Blackfeet people have endured.”

She continues, “Our school works to empower these young people with a ministry of presence. Through the time and intentionality that staff members devote to cultivating relationships, we are able to witness the beautiful gifts the students possess and encourage, support and empower them to recognize the strength, talent and wonder they hold within themselves. This is a long-term endeavor that happens in a million little moments: in the classroom, lunchroom, basketball court and community.

Regina finishes up her reflection saying, “Opportunities to share and highlight the students’ gifts and encourage their continued growth is a mission of ours. The school community cultivates a network of care as we invite speakers in to share their Blackfeet heritage. Additionally, there is a full-time counselor who works with community health services to provide additional support. In all of these encounters, students are seen, known and shown that they are so worthy of investment, time and attention—actions that put into practice the love they seek.”

What is the most important thing your students need from you?

Maeve shares, “The most important thing for our students would be being fully present to them and consistent. Life out of school for most students is not always the most consistent, so it is super important for us to be that. This is important in many aspects of school life whether it’s how much we share and socialize with students or how we are in class with rules. All this consistency and showing them how much we care and appreciate them are some of the most important things the students need from us.”

How have the Brothers changed you?

Jessica shares, “I have lived with two De La Salle Christian Brothers for the past two years. It has been a wonderful experience living with and working alongside religious Brothers. They are a continuous reminder of the mission Saint John Baptist de La Salle began over 300 years ago and how we are called to continue the mission today. I am inspired by Brother Jim Krause, FSC, because of his passion for social justice and deep care for others. He is always willing to lend a helping hand, even for the littlest of tasks. I look up to Brother Dale Mooney, FSC, as a model of what dedication and selflessness look like. He gives so much of his time and energy for the work he does and does so with the utmost care and without complaint. Living with the Brothers is so joyful because while they are invested in the work they are called to do, they are also invested in us. We gather each weeknight to share a meal and prayer, and they are greatly interested in our interactions with the students and often offer any support they can. I can say I have been changed by the Brothers because through their uplifting words and selfless actions, they have shown me what love and service truly is. They make me want to foster community with all I encounter. Because of the Brothers, I am inspired to invite others into the mission of caring for children who experience poverty and empowering young people to become the people God created them to be.”

How is your experience of faith, service and community impacted by COVID-19?

Jessica shares, “COVID-19 has impacted my experience of faith, service and community in both negative and positive ways. In terms of service, we had to teach virtually for eight months! While remote learning had its obvious challenges—poor student engagement, developing technology friendly curriculum and resources, general technology and Wi-Fi issues, etc.—there were a lot of graces that came out of it. We had changed our class schedule to provide one-on-one tutoring to support students, and this allowed me to make personal phone calls to students to not only check in academically, but to chat with students about how they are doing and to hear fun things that they are finding to do while at home. We recently started in-person learning in March, and it has been so enjoyable to have the kids back! Through all the craziness with online learning and transitioning to in-person learning, I’d say the community has been the greatest constant in all the change. The larger school community has been incredibly supportive, and the collaboration we’ve shared has been like none the school has had before. I also have found myself relying on my fellow LV community mates and Brothers more this year. They not only have supported me when I needed help but created a peaceful and restorative atmosphere to recharge and persevere through the unknown of remote learning. Throughout this entire year, with all its ups and downs, my faith has deepened in ways that I never imagined. With so much unknown and loss experienced with online learning, it has shown me how to truly trust God. When things weren’t going the way I imagined or wanted, it was an invitation to lean on God and offer it all to Him, knowing that He would make all things right. While this year was not what I was expecting, there have been so many beautiful surprises and an immeasurable amount of growth that I will cherish forever.”

Many Lasallian Volunteers who serve in Browning, Montana, as well as the program as a 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.

This year’s Lasallian Social Justice Institute (LSJI), OKI-NI-SOO-KA-WA “Come and See,” will be held virtually July 20-22, 2021. Click here to learn more >

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