St. Labre Indian School Continues 127-Year Heritage of Service to Native American People of SE Montana

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St. Labre Indian School Educational Association, a Roman Catholic, non-profit organization providing educational, community and spiritual services to Native American children of southeastern Montana, today released highlights of its 2010 programs and services, which included outstanding achievements in all areas of the Mission.

Self sufficiency is the ultimate goal for Native American communities. Our spiritual & community programs are all important, but education is the essential element. That’s why we continue to focus resources on elevating student achievement in our schools.

St. Labre Indian School Education Association, a Roman Catholic, non-profit organization providing educational, community and spiritual services to Native American children of southeastern Montana, today released highlights of its 2010 programs and services, which included outstanding achievements in all areas of the Mission. St. Labre operates three campuses for students in preschool through twelfth grade. Since 1884, St. Labre has provided quality educational, community and spiritual programs for Native American children—primarily of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes—that embrace their cultural heritage and help build self-sufficiency.

St. Labre believes that education changes lives and that every child deserves an opportunity for a quality education. To continue to advance this objective, St. Labre programs strive to impart to its students a strong moral foundation and an exceptional academic experience with an ongoing commitment to the cultural traditions of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow people. In addition to its primary and secondary education programs, St. Labre offers a mentor program to provide support to its graduates pursuing higher education.

“St. Labre is unique. We believe in education as social justice and that a superior education is a worthy investment for all children—an investment that is an integral building block of self-sufficiency,” said Ivan Small, Director of St. Labre Schools. “Education has been and always will be the core of our mission. At St. Labre, the finest resources, an enduring commitment, and professional expertise come together to assure a quality education for the students we serve.”

Recent educational milestones and accomplishments:

  •     Enrollment at St. Labre schools remains steady, providing a diverse and robust academic curriculum for more than 625 students. Average daily attendance continues to increase, reaching beyond 94% in 2010.
  •     St. Labre High School celebrated the graduation of 24 seniors in May 2010, and for the first time in St. Labre’s history, all 24 students were accepted to college—a significant accomplishment for any school, and a proud and joyous achievement for St. Labre students, their families, and St. Labre faculty and staff.
  •     With several of the graduating seniors delaying the start of their college careers, St. Labre students still continue to shine with 83% of the 2010 graduating class beginning college the following fall. This was an even higher percentage than recent years: 74% in 2009; 53% in 2008; and 72% in 2007. These statistics significantly outpace the national average of 17% of Native Americans continuing on to higher education after high school graduation, an acknowledgment of St. Labre students’ educational preparedness.
  •     High school drop-out rates at St. Labre remain very low: 1.7% in the 2009-2010 school year and 0% in the 2008-2009 school year. St. Labre’s statistics are notably better than its peer groups: all Montana Native American students recorded drop-out rates of 10.6% (2009-2010) and 8.8% (2008-2009), and all Montana students’ drop-out rates in the same years are 4.3% and 3.6%.
  •     To continue to improve on both qualitative and quantitative educational benchmarks, St. Labre implemented an “academy” model in its middle school, grades 5th through 8th, in the 2006-2007 school year. In subsequent years, the academy model was expanded to both the elementary and high school as well. A change of this magnitude took vision, courage, persistence, and teamwork, all part of the performance-oriented academy approach designed to instill a commitment to excellence and elevate academic achievement as a precursor to propelling a student toward his or her life’s objectives. The successful conversion is a tribute to the students, their families, and the faculty and staff at St Labre.
  •     Understanding that it is exceedingly difficult to increase academic achievement when students are hungry, St. Labre’s school cafeterias provide approximately 1,100 meals per day for its students. In addition to daily meals during the school year, St. Charles, Pretty Eagle, and St. Labre, collectively, provided more than 8,800 summer meals. All totaled, more than 164,000 meals were served during the 2010 calendar year at no charge to the students.
  •     In 2010, one of St. Labre’s students, a freshman at the high school, celebrated a significant artistic achievement. As a participant in St. Labre’s Beadwork Institute, the student entered his beaded cradleboard in the highly competitive American Indian Student Art Show, held annually at the renowned Heard Museum’s American Indian Student Art Show and Sale in Phoenix, Arizona. With more than 5,000 entries in the competition, the work won not one, but three honors: 1st Place-Best of Division, Judges Choice Award, and Best of Show. St. Labre students have won the beadwork division of the American Indian Student Art Show four of the last five years. Artistic accomplishment, particularly in beadwork, is a great tradition at St. Labre, one that is recognized throughout the American Indian student art community and embodied in the spirit of St. Labre’s Beadwork Institute, a program offered to St. Labre Middle School and High School students.
  •     Recognizing its unique responsibility to support the culture and history of the Native American students and communities it serves, St. Labre faculty members consciously work to integrate Native American heritage into school curriculum, including classes in Cheyenne and Crow Indian languages, Cheyenne history, and Native American drumming. St. Labre also sponsors festivities associated with Native American Week in September, including the much-anticipated Pow Wow.
  •     In addition to programs that celebrate St. Labre students’ cultural heritage, the Mission also embraces other extracurricular activities that enrich the overall educational experience, including annual educational trips to Washington, DC (8th grade), Science Camp at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming (4th grade), and a variety of destinations along the West Coast (11th grade). St. Labre also enjoys bi-annual student cultural exchanges with the Mapuche Indians at St. Ignacio School in Patagonia, Argentina.
  •     Closer to home, 43 spellers from eight schools in Big Horn County participated in the 2010 Big Horn County Spelling Bee held at the Hardin Middle School Auditorium. After a spirited competition, a St. Labre eighth grader from Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy was crowned the Spelling Bee champion. The 2011 Big Horn County Spelling Bee just recently concluded, and another student from Pretty Eagle placed second in this year’s competition.
  •     One of the most anticipated projects ever undertaken at St. Labre is finally underway—the construction of the new St. Labre dormitory. This new 84-student facility is due to be completed in time for the 2011-12 school year and will replace aging dormitory facilities built in the early 60s. The new design incorporates many special features that will help students improve their study habits and encourage spiritual growth. Photos and a live webcam of this project are available at

Youth and Family Services
In addition to its 127-year heritage of quality education, St. Labre provides a variety of programs for the children and families of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Reservations through its Youth and Family Services Program, which includes counseling and financial assis¬tance, a youth group home and elderly outreach, and programs in positive parenting, the development of positive self-concepts, asser¬tiveness, employment readiness, and breaking the cycle of victimization.

Through the efforts of St. Labre personnel and volunteers, therapy and support is available to individuals and families who struggle with substance abuse, family violence and issues of unresolved grief. In addition, they offer critical services when children and families are in need – whether the need is food, shelter, immediate financial assistance, transportation or therapy programs that help lead the family toward self-sufficiency. In this same spirit, St. Labre sponsors programs that benefit other regional service providers in an effort to connect those who need help with the agencies that can provide it. Because the challenges facing the reservations are larger than any one entity, St. Labre continues to partner with other support organizations, both on and off the reservations, to make available to the Northern Cheyenne and Crow People services it does not offer.

“It is a well-established fact that geographic location, socio-economic conditions, and community culture dramatically affect academic achievement,” explained Vicki Anderson, Director of Youth and Family Services at St. Labre, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. “With the programs that Youth & Family Services provide, we are able to start meeting the basic needs of families in order to help them help their children be ready to attend school and achieve success through learning. Our on-going goal is to continue to meet the needs of the community by working together with local leaders and agencies to address issues to the best of our abilities.”

Highlights of Youth and Family Services:

  •     St. Labre operates a residential group home that provides a safe, loving and nurturing environment for up to 10 at-risk boys and girls.
  •     Youth and Family Services provides subsidized day care for staff and other area workers that allow them to concentrate on their jobs, knowing their children are in a safe, caring environment.
  •     From its comprehensive educational services, including job skills and nutritional training, and financial grants to wellness workshops and free tax preparation, St. Labre provides a wide array of assistance programs for the communities it serves. Among these is the St. Labre Community Outreach Program, which provides food vouchers, gas vouchers, and funds for emergency energy assistance, emergency medical assistance, funeral assistance, and other aid based on circumstances. Benefits are generally reserved for the elderly, families with children under 18, and the unemployed or underemployed.
  •     As is its tradition, St. Labre distributes donated food for the holidays to locals in need. In 2010, St. Labre personnel and volunteers distributed 195 turkeys with “all the trimmings” to the elderly for Thanksgiving and 189 turkeys or hams at Christmas, along with stockings of “goodies” in Ashland and Lame Deer.
  •     In addition to its donation of the holiday food referenced above, National Relief Charities provided St. Labre with school supplies that were distributed to students in all schools. These basic school necessities were distributed to students who needed supplies to begin the year. St. Labre also provided additional supplies for students at St. Labre, St. Charles, and Pretty Eagle Schools as well as to community children who attend other area schools. National Relief Charities also donated beds, blankets, coats, and a variety of household supplies, diapers, and other personal items to those in need.
  •     To help support those in the community who are unemployed or underemployed but able to work, St. Labre operates the Work Incentive Store. Participants in this program can sign-up to work in the community to earn points that can be used to purchase goods at the store. This program has been very well received, providing participants with the satisfaction and self-esteem that comes with contributing to the community through work projects in return for staple products at the Work Incentive Store.
  •     Children who attend St. Labre also have an opportunity, through their teachers, to participate in the School Incentive Program. St. Labre believes that work habits begin in the early years; therefore, it is the students “job” to attend school. This program encourages student achievement by allowing them to earn credits to “purchase” additional school supplies or household items at the Work Incentive Store. Many of the products in the Work Incentive and School Incentive stores are donated by National Relief Charities.
  •     In addition to the two incentive stores referenced above, St. Labre operates the Mission Clothes Room Thrift Store, which allows children through community members to purchase items they need at very low cost. The Thrift Store also provides teachers, community members, and a variety of special event programs the opportunity to acquire items to be used as prizes and incentives. In addition, the Thrift Store serves as a resource for a child placed in foster care, providing clothing and other items. St. Labre has also given clothing, personal hygiene, and household items to those who have lost their homes due to fires or other causes.
  •     St. Labre also provides employment training to unemployed individuals in the community. Classes meet twice per week with one class held in Ashland and the other in Lame Deer. Attendees can earn points in these classes toward vouchers to purchase goods in the Work Incentive Store or the Mission Clothes Thrift Store.

Employment, Scholarships, Grants and Community Support
While staying true to its responsibility as an education, religious and community services provider, St. Labre recognizes the vast need on the reservations for sustained economic development, a vital key to the Native American people achieving true self-sufficiency. As part of its long-standing commitment to a region where unemployment rates can exceed 50 percent, St. Labre offers the opportunity for productive employment. The Mission currently employs 295 people, 53% of whom are Native Americans. St. Labre leadership actively recruits Native Americans for employment and has a well-documented history of promoting high-achieving employees from within the organization.

In addition to providing productive employment, St. Labre infuses more than $14 million annually into the local economy in the form of wages, salaries, and benefits. Further, the Mission has a variety of programs in place that help students and employees continue their education:

  •     In 2010, 45 employees utilized St. Labre’s Employee Education Assistance Program, which reimburses employees for the cost of college tuition, fees, and books, depending on the grade received. Last year alone, St. Labre provided more than $25,000 in tuition assistance to its staff. Since the program’s inception, St. Labre has provided over $580,000 in educational assistance to its employees.
  •     St. Labre currently has three recipients of its Success Scholarship, which supplements the total cost of an undergraduate degree, paying the remaining unmet need after other sources of financial aid have been applied, and provides a $3,000 stipend. The Success Scholarship was established to support one student each year and up to five scholarships concurrently. The scholarship is awarded to students who show exceptional promise of success. Established in 2003, it is part of the extensive scholarship programs at St. Labre for its Native American graduates. Currently, two Success Scholarship recipients are attending Montana State University, and one is attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  •     Each year, St. Labre offers $1,000 scholarships to the graduating Northern Cheyenne or Crow student with the highest ACT score at each of seven area schools. This scholarship may be used at the post-secondary school of the students’ choosing. This is in addition to scholarships St. Labre offers to its own graduates.
  •     The Fr. Emmett Hoffmann Scholarships have been awarded since 1978. These scholarships, exclusively for Native American graduates of St. Labre, are provided every year to multiple students with demonstrated financial need, for both undergraduate and advanced degree work. In addition to scholarships for its graduates, the Mission also offers other scholarships to Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribal members in the community who are pursuing advanced degrees. Graduate Northern Cheyenne and Crow students, regardless of the high school from which they graduated, are eligible for assistance from this program.
  •     In the 2009-2010 academic year alone, St. Labre provided $331,700 to 85 students through its scholarship programs. Since the inception of these scholarship programs, St. Labre has provided more than $3.5 million for higher education.
  •     St. Labre also provides a variety of annual grants that benefit the region, including the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, in support of parishes on the reservations, St. Paul’s Mission School on the Ft. Belknap Reservation in northeastern Montana, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, and numerous other Northern Cheyenne and Crow cultural celebrations and events. Since the mid 1990s, St. Labre has provided more than $16 million in grants and support to these institutions.
  •     In addition to the above scholarships, grants, and benefits, St. Labre has delivered more than $12 million in direct eco¬nomic development assistance to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe since the late 1990s. This economic aid took many forms, from the transfer of property and assets to direct financial assistance.

“Our ultimate goal is to help the Native American communities we serve achieve self-sufficiency,” stated Curtis Yarlott, executive director of St. Labre and a member of the Crow Tribe. “Our youth, spiritual, and community support programs are all important components, but education is the essential element in building self-sufficiency. That’s why we continue to focus energy and resources into raising the bar on educational standards to continue to elevate student achievement in our schools.”

About St. Labre
Located in Southeastern Montana, St. Labre Indian School Educational Association is a Roman Catholic institution, providing quality educational, community and spiritual programs for Native American children, primarily members of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes. Founded in 1884, St. Labre operates St. Labre High School, St. Labre Middle School Academy, and St. Labre Elementary—all three located on the Ashland campus—and St. Charles Mission School in Pryor and Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy in St. Xavier. The schools provide pre-school, elementary and secon¬dary education to Native American students regardless of religious affiliation. With enrollment of more than 625 students and its extensive community programs, St. Labre is among the largest privately funded organizations providing services to Native American people in the state of Montana. For more information, please contact St. Labre at (406) 784-4500 or visit

The St. Labre Mission: To proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Catholic tradition by providing quality education which celebrates our Catholic faith and embraces Native American cultures, primarily the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes, so that Native American individuals and the communities of Southeastern Montana are empowered to attain self-sufficiency.

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William Marino

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