A Vicious Cycle

Friday, February 18, 2012

“11? Not-uh. In one visit?”  I was talking to my mentor teacher about one of my student’s dentist visits.  I’ve noticed that many of the students here have dental issues.  This particular student went to the dentist the other day, and they found 11—count them—11 cavities.  Just during that one visit; and he’s had teeth fall out and teeth pulled on other occasions.  Many of the students have the same problem and have countless “silver” teeth.

My 12 students have a lot more than minor physical ones.  Psychological and emotional abuse are common among these students.  Many students are neglected at home, and for many of them, social services have brought them here, or they live with family members, many of them single grandparents who simply cannot take care and provide for them.  These students receive three meals a day and have a safe place to live here at the school—something that they don’t necessarily see on the res (reservations).

It takes patience, patience, patience, and well, a little more patience with these kids.  When you tell them to sit down in their chair, feet on the floor, hands in their laps, eyes on the teacher, and ears listening, that could last for 10 seconds—if you’re lucky.  I have been told to focus on the positives and continue to praise the students who are following along and doing what is asked.  The other students will realize what they should be doing and eventually listen.  These students are smart kids, but they struggle with simply listening the most.  I give the students warnings, and if they are still not complying or disrupting the learning environment, or affecting the teaching, I send them to a disciplinarian until they are ready to come back.

The 8th grade basketball season is coming to a close.  We are currently 9-1 and have been recently told that this team could go down as one of the greatest teams to play at PILC.  In fact, the head coach of the basketball team sat down the players and talked to them about their futures.  There are a couple of players who have a real future in basketball—possibly at the college level.  On the reservation, there are said to be really good basketball players.  Due to the fact that they receive checks every month, it seems that there is no desire for more.  I’ve had some talks with faculty, and we wonder what the future holds for these people.  Is there hope?  It seems that there is a catch-22 with the government checks and the lax lifestyle of the Natives on the reservations.  If the government continues to give them money, many of them use it for drugs and alcohol—and the people seem to have no further drive.  If they didn’t receive the checks, would they need to get off the reservations and do something more?  Or would the lack of the checks further the downward spiral of the reservations?  Tough questions that we don’t know the answers to.  I’ve been told that some of the students that are currently enrolled at PILC, that their parents went here—meaning they haven’t made the strides needed to get out of that lifestyle.  The coach told them that they could be the ones to get off the res.

Being away from friends and family has been difficult during the past few weeks.  I wish I could have been there for my parent’s move to Arizona, and it was hard to be away from my girlfriend, Lisa, on Valentine’s Day—the day we celebrated 5 years together.  I realize there is a finish line and that I will look back and be proud of the dedication and commitment I gave to the school and my students during this time of my life.  If I affect one of the students and change their lives for the better—just one—and show them a positive role model—I think it would be worth it all.  It is nearly impossible to record all of the feelings, emotions, and experiences that I have had so far here in South Dakota.  Your thoughts and prayers are much appreciated!

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