Red Cloud students host students from St. Thomas More High School as part of culture sharing pen pal program

posted on May 13, 2011

On Thursday May 5, 2011 the junior class from St. Thomas More High School of Rapid City, South Dakota joined juniors from Red Cloud High School for a day of culture sharing and friendship-building activities as part of pen pal program between the two schools.

By request of Bishop Blaise Cupich three years ago and under the leadership of then St. Thomas More teacher sophomore theology teacher Katie Falkowski and Red Cloud English teacher Anne Grass, the two schools began a pen pal relationship which was developed to create friendships among the schools.

“Bishop Blaise’s goal was to find ways that the two schools could build relationships,” says Grass.

“Myself and Katie had gone to grad school together through the Magis Program at Creighton. We both met up with Bishop Blaise who knew we were working in each school so he asked us if there was anyway we could bring the two catholic schools together. Eventually we decided upon a pen pal program.”

The relationship continued as the then sophomore class of Red Cloud High School, took the two-hour drive to Rapid City, to spend the day with St. Thomas More students. This was the second year that Red Cloud High School took sophomores to St. Thomas More

“After visiting STM towards the end of the school year, we wanted to continue the relationships that we had built with our pen pals,” says Red Cloud junior Talia Lawrence. “ They had invited us to their school where we had a great time and we wanted to return the favor.”

With the students’ interest to continue the pen pal program into the next school year, the pen pal program was continued their junior year where more teachers became involved.

“I thought this was a great program to continue because it helps brake down stereo types between the two schools while teaching the students to be proud of who they are as individuals,” says Brendon Vaca, ethics teacher at Red Cloud High School. “Basically myself and Hope Boeve took over distribution of letters for the junior class because we teach the juniors and Anne wanted to continue the pen pal program with the sophomores.”

“Students later approached me about making a visit from STM students a possibility. It was at this point that the students and a few other staff members created a planning committee to began the scheduling and planning of events for the visitors’ trip would eventually became a reality,” says Hope Boeve, English teacher at Red Cloud High School.

During the day long event, 64 juniors from St. Thomas More were greeted by 54 members of Red Cloud High School’s junior class where everyone shared a light breakfast and engaged in conversation, which led into student led tours around campus.

After touring the campus in small groups, students gathered together in the Church where they listened to some words of encouragement and lessons about the Lakota people by local elder Alvin Slow Bear.

Students then separated into three groups to participate in a preselected activity of their choice.

“It was great to see how the students really were at ease with one another and made it a point to continuously engage in conversation with someone from another school,” says Vaca.

“Some of the students went on a bus to tour around the Pine Ridge Reservation where they eventually stopped for ice cream at Subway, some went to the schools’ sweat lodge for a traditional ceremony and others went on a hike behind Red Cloud campus where we painted water color paintings,” says Boeve. “It was all up to the students and their current interest with the primary goal being to educate and share the culture.”

“It’s really not as bad as people say it is. I thought that it was interesting to see how everything had a historical past. It was really neat,” says St. Thomas More junior Danielle Nielsen after taking a bus tour of the Pine Ridge Reservation. “The area is very different then Rapid City, but it’s still very beautiful out here. I especially liked how everyone knew each other and how they knew where everyone else lived.”

“The whole experience was amazing,” says Dan Zekorn a junior at St. Thomas More, who opted to attend the sweat lodge ceremony.

“The sweat lodge was intense. I never done anything like that before but I really liked it and I’m glad that I had that opportunity to experience that way of praying,” says J.J. Hollibaugh, a junior at St. Thomas More.

With two hours of the preselected activities finished, students from both schools returned to the cafeteria where they shared a traditional meal of fry bread, soup and wojapi, a Lakota dessert made from berries.

Students spent the remainder of the afternoon completing icebreakers in the gym, a game of soccer on the football field, a tug of war outside the school and hearing speeches from teachers and representatives from both classes.

“Overall, the Saint Thomas More visit was a great success for everyone,” says Red Cloud junior Lyle Jacobs. “I had an enjoyable time hanging out with the STM students. They are easy to get along with and I would love to do it again.”

“I believe it was a day well-spent,” says Lawrence.