The brand new school is one of five on the reservation according to www.headstartprogram.us.
The Cheyenne River Head Start in Swift Bird will provide child care and early education for children and families who need the time and help preparing them for Tiospaye Topa School. Children 3-5 years of age can be cared for while young parents are able to access their own helpful classes and take advantage of volunteer opportunities that can lead to work in the community. The program mainly prepares children for kindergarten on up by providing essential and fun activities that help them learn.
Geri Zorin, a local teacher of 20 years, now working at the main Head Start office in Eagle Butte, said the new building should be ready by December 1.
“We’re just waiting on the basement, plumbing and electrical to be completed. The building is all finished. The construction crew was digging the basement and it kept filling up with water from the moisture this year,” Zorin said.
Lyle Smith with Tribal Projects confirmed the project’s timeline. Once projects are approved, they go through Tribal Projects who handles all contracting and construction.
According to Smith, “…the building is sitting in Madison, SD awaiting the foundation pour.” They are hoping to have the building delivered the week of November 12.
The Swift Bird Head Start will have “Creative Curriculum, which goes hand-in-hand with the assessment tool,” for kids to show their learning outcomes, according to ________.
There are Smart Boards, wifi-connection, interactive boards that function like a computer/whiteboard/and TV screen, and area teachers are fully implementing them.
This updated approach focuses on social emotional science, and introduces early science and math skills.
One of the reasons for the new tech-update was to be able to provide the standardized student testing, which involves kids using a computer to ask and answer questions. They found that children unfamiliar with computers had a habit of clicking on buttons they just liked the look of.
According to Zorin, “…in 2012-14, it was identified there was between 6-14 kids that could benefit from Head Start in Swift Bird, and there were parents that wanted it.”
The program received a TECHA grant for $249K for the building in Swift Bird around the same time the Federal Government cut $119,000 as part of the “Sequestration Cuts” in 2013, according to the South Dakota Head Start Association website. These were part of the “American Tax Relief Act of 2012.”
For two to three years, no one continued the expansion of the program, but it was picked back up a couple of years ago and now the building is ready. There was a Groundbreaking ceremony in Swift Bird in late August, and Zorin said there were prayers and a community feed.
“We have to have a 251 enrollment to keep the program going reservation wide,” Zorin said.
New schools in Swift Bird, Black Foot, Promise and La Plant are all on the way. Swift Bird had a Head Start Program in 1980 located in a housing unit, but it was shut down and there hasn’t been one since.
One of the concerns Zorin shared was that “a lot of kids starting at Tiospaye Topa School don’t have a lot of academic skills starting out.”
To address this concern, Zorin applied for and was awarded a $500K grant, the second round of funding to continue with the expansion and learning tool upgrades.
All of the Head Starts have been a success on Cheyenne River. Kids learn how to get along with other kids, how to take direction and learn other academic processes to prepare them for kindergarten so they’ll have a successful year. Children learn Lakota language basics such as the Flag Song, the Lakota Prayer and different the names of different items throughout the classroom.
“There is room for immersion,” Zorin added. Teachers can create “their own program design. It’s possible to have a totally Lakota classroom, and/or teach Lakota throughout the day.”
When Cheyenne River first started with Head Start there were only 13 students enrolled, and they had to close it to find kids.
“Now families are knocking on the door. We have more trust from families than we had before. According to Washington we were under enrollment for 5 years.”
There are a lot of benefits for the communities in which the Head Start Programs are established.
“We do a lot of parent activities. We have classes for parenting, meth/drug awareness, budgeting, ‘Down-to-Earth-Dads’ and that really helped. We have a lot more parent involvement with policy meetings.” The programs are also focused on providing nutrition for low-income kids, early childhood development skills and and health.
The new Head Start Building building will be mainly for Head Start, though the basement will be used as an emergency shelter for families that don’t have it, with some first-aid supplies and Atrial Defibrillator (AD) machines for children and adults.
Community activities can be scheduled through arrangements with the teacher on staff. The Swift Bird Head Start facility will employ four staff members in the roles of Teacher, Teacher’s Aid, Cook and Bus Driver. One center can provide services for 17 children.
“As long as Cheyenne River has 251 children we’re covered. Our numbers matter; we need as many people as we can.”
Kids can be dropped off between 7:30 a.m. — 8:00 a.m. and, school starts at 8:00 a.m. for kids arriving by bus. The school day runs until 2:00 p.m.. Parents are invited to volunteer.
“If young parents decide they want to do something with Head Start, there’s a track, the CDA (Child Development Associate).”
Head Start likes to “hire young parents who have volunteered, who’ve showed commitment. They used to hire based on qualifications, but they really prefer to hire people from the communities. That’d be the perfect opportunity for young parents in the community right there” to help kids Zorin said.
Additionally people are encouraged to attend Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) — CPR training, “so that everybody knows who to contact for immediate first aid and CPR to keep people alive until an ambulance can get there,” Zorin said.
“We’ve had good stories — people saving their grandparents. We’d like to build an emergency team, in order to build reliance within communities; we can’t always rely on the Tribe.”
“Some of our centers do not have Emergency/Storm Shelters and that’s part of our upcoming projects for other centers on the reservation that don’t have them,” she said.
The Head Start Programs really got going in 1994, developed to “break the cycle of poverty” according to the Office of Head Start website, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the principles of the program is to provide culturally responsive services to the communities they serve and in which they are located. The schools rely in part on volunteer hours and additional funding from non-Federal sources on the national level.
In 2007 the “Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act” gained bipartisan approval with a number of provisions geared to prepare kids for the school system. These included higher certification qualifications for teachers, reviews of children’s outcomes as well as financial audits.
Overall the program encourages community members to be involved with the community by investing this time in the kids. Young parents and their children will receive encouragement, self-worth is cultivated, and the bullying that used to be a large issue in area schools has greatly decreased.
Head Start was to give parents experience and to remain independent, and not totally reliant on welfare. Zorin added, “When we do parent activities, we try to have them at the end of the month; we try to have a meal; and we’re able to provide body-care products.”