Osage Nation overhauling early learning academies

Shannon Shaw DutyOsage News

An associate degree or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is what will be required to teach at one of the Osage Nation’s Wah-Zha-Zhi Early Learning Academies – something that has never been required before.

“Our goal is to have a certified early childhood teacher in every classroom – there will only be so many positions available for Child Development Associates (CDA), which will require the rest of the teachers who decide to stay with us to raise their level of qualifications,” said Debra Atterberry in an email. Atterberry is the senior advisor for Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and is also overseeing the education reorganization of the entire division of Education and Early Learning.

Along with improving the teaching staff at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Early Learning Academies (WELA), specialized staff is being added to bring the academies up to Educare standards. The changes took effect Aug. 1.

Staff positions such as an education services administrator, compliance officer, full-time dietician, language immersion teachers, academic advisors and counselors, cultural curriculum and resource specialists, community outreach specialists and more are being added.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear recently asked the Osage Nation Congress for an additional $154,000 to increase pay for the WELA teachers.

“That’s what this extra money is for, it’s for bringing those teachers up, they get more money and they have to get qualified. Those that can’t are going to leave. But those that remain, or new teachers, will be Educare standard teachers or daycare providers,” Standing Bear said. “That costs more so we’re paying them more. That’s where most of the increase is. We’ve taken away that we’re going to serve everybody we can, and we’re focusing on Osages. Osage priority.”

According to educareschools.org, Educare is a research-based program that prepares young, at-risk children for school. It is a specially designed program that focuses on the first five years and the most at risk children for academic failure.

At Educare Schools, teachers work with children – beginning in infancy and through preschool – and their parents to develop pre–literacy and early math skills such as letter and number recognition, problem solving, and counting, according to educareschools.org. Equal emphasis is given to developing social-emotional skills: the ability to focus on a task, persistence, impulse control and cooperation with peers, among other skills and qualities to ensure a bright future for the child.

Last year within the ON Head Start facilities there were 76 Osage children who attended the Pawhuska Osage Nation Head Start facility. Nineteen Osage children attended Fairfax and seven attended Skiatook. The rest of the students were Native American or non-Indian.

A lot of preparation and work by the Education Task Force has gone into reorganizing the early learning centers. Atterberry said she thinks both children and parents will be pleased.

“When focusing on the whole child, i.e. their social well-being, health, culture, language, educational instruction, in addition to nurturing a strong parent-child relationship – it creates the foundation for successful learning,” she said.

The curriculum for WELA will be Creative Curriculum by Teaching Strategies, which is the same curriculum the Head Starts have used for the past six years. What is changing is an increase of Osage language and culture into the children’s daily schedules.

Osage Language Immersion

The plan for the Osage Language Immersion classes at the WELA is to have eight children, ages six weeks to two years, in one class and 12 students, ages three to four years, in the second class, Atterberry said. If more than eight and 12 in each class apply, there will be a public lottery. There will also be a small fee for the children to be in the immersion classes, but the fees may be reduced or waived according to parent participation, she said. Immersion classes will be held at the Pawhuska facility only, at this time.

Four of the Language Department teachers will be teaching in the Immersion classrooms. Teaching the 0-2 year olds will be David Webb and Donna Barrone. Teaching the 3-4 year olds will be Tracey Moore and Addie Hudgins. All WELA teachers will be continuing language training under Herman “Mogri” Lookout.

Lookout and Osage language instructor Janis Carpenter are developing the language curriculum for the immersion programs. Each day the children participating in the immersion classes will be taught from 8 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. The staff and teachers will be required to speak only Osage in front of the children.