The semester will soon be coming to a close at Marty Indian Elementary school which is hard to believe but it seems the older I get the faster the days and weeks whiz by! This past week the kids were undergoing school testing and we hope they did well and that the results will be used to help teachers identify potential problem areas and work with students to develop the skills they need.
We first blogged about the school and the project here and here. It’s the first year we’ve worked with this school which is not on Pine Ridge Reservation where most of our projects are, but on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in southeast South Dakota. School principal, Gina Curran, is originally from Wanblee which is one of our project areas. We’ve attempted to work with the local school there, Crazy Horse, but didn’t receive the response we needed to further the program. Gina contacted our group for help with her elementary students because, due to their remote location, they don’t receive a lot of help from organizations such as NAHA and Running Strong which brings in school supplies, backpacks, shoes, etc. They receive funding to operate the school through State/Federal programs and provide basic school supplies for students at the beginning of the year, but when those run out it’s difficult to find funding to replenish those needs. We would like to congratulate Gina as she’s also recently been hired as school Superintendent and she continues to work toward her PhD in education.
The Marty program began at the beginning of this school year with the assignment of 2 volunteers per class in grades K through 5. Room parents are volunteers from our Sew For Kids Volunteers Facebook group and/or our Yahoo group who showed interest in supporting a class for the year. We also have many volunteers that support the school by sending school supplies, crafts, food, clothing, etc. to Gina for the classrooms or for the Feather Store. Volunteer, Barb Reinert, helped make the Halloween party this past October a little more fun by sending costumes to the school and many others provided snacks for the kids. Another volunteer, Christine Widman, spent many hours searching thrift stores for games and toys for the kids. Not only do we have great sewers and crafters but world class shoppers too!
Room parents contacted their respective teachers by phone or email to determine the needs of their students. We learned right away some of the kids needed warm blankets and pillows and that many didn’t have a bed and slept on the floor. Many students didn’t have adequate clothing, shoes or even a backpack. It’s not unusual to have as many as 20 people, adults and children, living in a 2-3 bedroom home on the Rez where there is a critical housing shortage. Household numbers usually rise in the winter when family members return home from their seasonal jobs off the Rez. Kids living in overcrowded homes are often tired and ill prepared when coming to class as living with that many people makes it hard to find a quiet spot to sleep or do homework. We learned that some kids don’t eat as much on weekends due to food shortages at home and they could really use extra food to put in their backpacks to make it until Monday. Teachers have budgets to pay for classroom projects but after that money’s gone they will need to dig into their own pockets or do without. The last need we learned of was toiletries. One of the teachers told how excited kids were to get their own personal bottle of shampoo, bar of soap and toothbrush and toothpaste. Some of our group made and filled toiletry bags to give to students. Unfortunately the school is currently experiencing an outbreak of head lice and had to purchase $600 in lice removal kits to distribute to families. The school will shampoo students hair if parents request it. Shampoo is needed as are many other toiletries. Hopefully families have hot water in which to launder kids hats, pillows, etc. to help stop the spread.
Parents don’t usually visit the school except for parent/teacher conferences but Gina is setting a goal that they come in at least once a month, she wants parents to be involved in their child’s education. Having the Feather Store is one way of getting parents in to the school as they also receive feathers they can use to shop in the store. Gina recently wrote, ” The students get clothes and shoes from the Feather store. The generosity from this group had really helped us to offer basic necessity items that our students and families need. We recently had a father find himself shoes in the store! He was very happy to get them! So thank you for everything this group does to help our students! ”
Before kids left for the long Thanksgiving weekend the school sent them home with warm clothing, underwear and a warm coat, if they needed one, from the Feather Store regardless if they had the feathers to buy them. Many thanks to those of you that sent in all those warm winter items, please continue to send them through the next few months if you have them. The school had also set aside some funds to buy food for care packages for the neediest families so they would have something to eat over the long weekend.
We also received another note from Gina in mid November, “Hi Carol! So this year we would like to have a special “Christmas Store” at our school. The kids earn feathers daily for attendance, kindness, hard work, meeting goals etc… The store is a time for them to buy something special for family members. Holiday items are not the only thing we accept. Mugs, frames, unopened lotion/bubble bath, toys, cookbooks, any and all gently used items you have no use for and want to pass on! **Especially dad/brother gifts are usually in short supply. Thanks to all for past donations, the kids enjoy buying and wrapping gifts every year. Please share the message to others you know that may be interested.”
Although it was a little short notice our group responded by helping stock the Feather Store with gift items kids could purchase for their family members. We had a program similar to this in my Illinois community for a non-profit and we’re thinking it might be a possibility in some of our other assistance areas. Please keep this project in mind for next year as you shop thrifts, garage sales and all those post holiday sales. SFK member, Penny Nickols, lives north of the school a few hours and decided to deliver her donations in person. While there, Gina gave her a tour of the school and she took some wonderful pictures that she shared with us.
The school is gearing up for their annual Christmas program. Another generous group is donating a small gift to each student that will be given out on the 16th, which also begins their two week winter break. Room parents are sending gifts to each of their students and some of the ones we’ve heard about are books, stuffed animals, small games, crafts, blankets, pillows, pillowcases, hats and mittens, scarves, toiletries, snacks, school supplies and even personally monogrammed towels with matching washcloth and a bar of soap from Carol Austin for the third grade class. Thanks Carol for your thoughtful gift!
Many of the children depend on the breakfast and lunch they receive at school so Gina worries they may not have enough to eat over the holidays. They will make food bags for the students from the donations they’ve received which isn’t a lot but at least it will help. You have all been so generous already that we hate to ask and wouldn’t unless it was really important, but if we could all make a small donation to Marty Indian School c/o Gina Curran we could help combat hunger over the holidays. Your gift is tax deductible, please state it is for food for the holiday break. The last part of the month, at any time of the year, is the hardest time for families as food stamps are running out and when kids are home and not supplemented during the day with school food, the food supply is used up even faster. Many homes are cold and if you’re not properly dressed it takes more calories to maintain your body temperature.
I also want to thank Kat Baacke and her group the Halfknits for making and sending warm blankets for each student in my class. Kat and her group have sent countless numbers of afghans and blankets to the Rez, including Wanblee and the shelter in Martin. They have been helping keep kids and their families warm on the Rez for many years.
Thank you as always from Sew For Kids for making a difference in the lives of children.
Kids at work.