My name is Regina Bettag, and I am a first year Lasallian Volunteer at De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, Montana. I am the science teacher at the school and to my delight I get to teach the whole school, fourth through eighth grade! I am also a co-homeroom teacher for the sixth grade and a coach for the cross country team.
Days are jam-packed out here. Although the school day starts at 8:15 a.m., students start arriving around 7:30 a.m. because the school provides a place for students to have breakfast, safely spend time, and of course shoot hoops! Being on morning duty is a wonderful way to get to know the students, find out what they did over the weekend, what is going on at home, and sometimes, to be challenged to a basketball game that I know I am destined to lose! After all the classes roll through, we have homework completion time followed by an enrichment period where students get to take electives that normally would not find a spot in the curriculum. Right now, we are studying camping, hiking and survival skills. After that wraps up at 4:30 p.m., the students are dismissed for the day.
As you may have noticed, the school days here are longer than most because we follow the San Miguel model, a Lasallian model of education designed particularly for students in at-risk neighborhoods. The long days help to ensure that students are safe during a time when they might otherwise be unsupervised. There are plenty of things that could be a cause for concern. The reservation faces many struggles including unemployment, poverty, addiction, and a search for identity, which unfortunately often lead to harmful respites like drugs or alcohol. The longer school days are intended to protect students from falling into the all too easy traps of numbing pain through these harmful alternatives.
After school ends, I go straight to cross country practice which goes until 5:45 p.m. The mountains provide a striking backdrop that makes running hills seem majestic—though some of the athletes might not be convinced. After practice I clean up the lab, head back to the mission for a community meal followed by group prayer and a night of grading and making sure everything is in order for the next day. Then before I know it, I wake up and do it over again! When I stop to think about it, nearly all of my day revolves around the students—planning their lessons, being with them before school, teaching, eating lunch with them, tutoring, teaching enrichment, coaching, even running across the street to the grocery store during my prep to buy last-minute lab supplies! Like I said, the days are jam-packed but that only seems appropriate.
My mom used to say that the way kids spell love is T-I-M-E. Of all of the things that I can give to my students, of all of the gifts that anyone has to offer, old, young, rich, poor, etcetera, isn’t time one of the most precious? After all, there is only so much of it no matter how much we might wish for. Giving of my time is a way that I know I am showing my students love. Indeed, there are moments where I struggle—I feel swamped amongst grading, I need longer weekends to plan out the lessons, and sometimes I just want 30 more minutes of sleep—but these struggles are put into perspective because there is something deeper that propels me to grade that last assignment, to send another email for the cross country team, to wait those extra 12 minutes at school until I know the student is picked up to go home, and that thing is love. There is a prayer by Father Pedro Arrupe that says, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love (with God), stay in love (with God), and it will decide everything.”
Upon reflecting on my day and reading that prayer, I can see that it is my students whom subliminally help me decide how time is spent. Falling in love with them has changed me. In that last line of the prayer I find that if I substitute “God” with “my students” it fits pretty well. And how appropriate that I am putting my students in that place because it is through these wonderful, crazy, maddening, lovely people that I find God every day. The way we open Lasallian prayer saying: “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God” is so relatable, because when I pray that, all I need to do is look around the room and instantly I can see God. I find God in the eighth grader who goes out of his way to open the door for someone who has their hands full, I find God in the sweet sixth grader who waits for me each day so he can be my “running buddy” at practice, and I find God in the fifth grader who comforts her crying classmate at lunch.
In a place where I am surrounded and astounded by so much love, I feel compelled and have a deep desire to return some of that, and I can’t think of a better way to do so then to spend my time with others as a Lasallian Volunteer. As a volunteer I might be minimally compensated compared to other post-college friends who have jobs, but really, I don’t think I could be making a better investment as I am investing something far more precious than money. Through investing my time, I am more than paid back in dividends of love, which really is priceless.
Regina Bettag is a first-year LV serving at De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, Montana. She is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.