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Time Just Flies……Fall Has Arrived!

October 4, 2012

Hello Dear Readers! I know it’s been awhile…..almost a month… and several of you have been asking whether or not I have given up my blog or when my next blog post will be, etc. I am flattered. But hey! I have excuses! I’ve been out of town for two weeks working. Working? What do I do you say? Well let me tell you about the greatest part time job in the world. For the past 8 years I have worked as a training and technical assistance consultant to Native American Head Start programs. For five of those years I worked full time with a nation wide team but when that contract was up in 2009 we were laid off and I have been working as a private consultant since then.

As some of you may know Head Start is a federally funded school readiness program for 3 and 4 year old low income children across our nation. It was started in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson and has included Native Americans from day one. Today over a million kids are in Head Start in some 50,000 classrooms. Native American programs are in 22 states and serve approximately 30,000 children. The largest Native program is Navajo with 4,000 children in more than 200 classrooms spread over the 3 states of the Navajo Nation….. Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The smallest programs have just 20 children and we have several of those right here in California.

Besides providing the expected pre-school activities of learning to get along with others….we call that socialization….. and kindergarten readiness via learning colors, shapes, letters, sounds,  number recognition and counting, etc. Head Start provides extensive health and nutrition services to every enrolled child. At the beginning of every school year children are given a complete physical exam including blood work to test for lead exposure, as many low income kids live in old housing where paint with lead in it still covers the walls and window sashes. Dental, hearing, and vision screenings are provided. Height and weight is assessed and individual nutrition plans are developed as needed to accomodate food allergies and over or under weight issues, etc. Scholastic, developmental, and mental health screenings are also administered and every program works with social workers, speech therapists, and child psychologists to provide individualized follow up and treatment for children with high risk and diagnosed special needs.

Parents are included in everything that happens at Head Start. The program has, from day one, been administered using a method called “Shared Governance” that includes the tribal leadership. the Head Start staff, and the Policy Council…..an advisory board of parents elected by all the parents of enrolled children. All three groups come together at least monthly to discuss planning, progress, and strategy. Parents are even included in the hiring and firing of employees and must approve or disapprove all new policies and procedures.

A typical day in Head Start begins with the arrival of children and a 30 minute breakfast. All meals are served family style, which means that every child has his own place setting complete with plate or bowl, silverware, glass/cup and napkins. Food is put on the table in large serving bowls and passed around from child to child. Drinks are served in child sized pitchers and children learn to pour from them and serve each other as well. There is nothing cuter than seeing a table full of three year olds passing a fruit platter to each other and filling their glasse from the tiny pitchers. I have sat at many a meal and joined in the conversation and answered the endless questions that typical three and four year olds come up with…..”What is your name?” “Why are you here?” “Are you _____’s Grandma?” “Can you read me a story?”

After breakfast children sit in a circle on a colorful rug and spend 15-20 minutes engaged in pre-school activities. that might include learning about the calendar, telling time, learning about weather, reading a story and discussing what it is all about, number exercises, etc.  After that comes a full 45-60 minutes playing outside. Once back in the classroom another hour is spent in “free play” at learning centers positioned all around the classroom. During that hour teachers pull children into groups of 2 or 3 to work on specific skills that those children need extra help with. Every child has an individualized learning plan and gets daily individualized help with it. Once that hour is up, it is usually lunch time and then children go home. Some programs provide all day, year round services, but most are half day programs.

Soooooooo…..when I go to a program I am most often working with the director to help organize administrative duties and get ready for tri-annual federal reviews. I might also work with teachers helping them understand curriculum and lesson plan development as well as classroom set up. I might do a training for the Policy Council and/or Tribal Council to teach them their roles and responsibilities in the “Shared Governance” aspect of Head Start. I have conducted workshops on time management, stress reduction and staff appreciation, family and community partnerships, etc. It is a job that varies greatly from day to day and tribe to tribe. I am never bored. I love working on the reservations in California, Arizona, and Nevada and have become a huge advocate for Native American issues in this country. I am a lucky woman to have this job and to be able to say “yes” or “no” to jobs and plan my own schedule. I would actually like to work much more than I do, but tribes have very limited funds for training and technical assistance so I count it a real privilege when I am asked to come and work with a program.

One of these times I will have to post some of my photos from Indian Country. Today I will share one of my poems with you……one that I wrote after having lunch on the Navajo Reservation.

babysitter

rusty  “Café” sign, hanging crooked

peeling paint, torn screen door

did not look promising, but we

 figured the fry bread must be good

 since a crowd of derelict vehicles

packed the street in front

 

a once green 49 chevy pick up

rattled up in a cloud of dust

 windows open,  red wheels jazzy!

driver jumped out, slammed his door

oblivious to the kids piled up like

firewood in the front seat

 

three small boys, fast asleep

 propped up against each other

long black lashes, round brown cheeks

no fear for safety, no neglect here

 babysitter on duty, best nanny one can find

red  hound dog Toby, paced the truck bed behind

Happy Fall days to you all,

Chatty Grandma

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