Head Start Staff Earn Degrees at WRTC

Aug 14th, 2014 | By | Category: 26-1: Celebrating 25 Years, Tribal College News
By Monte Lee Randall

Wind River Tribal College (WRTC, Fort Washakie, WY), in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO), graduated its first cohort of baccalaureate students in a joint teacher education program. All of the graduates are staff members at the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Head Start programs on the Wind River reservation in Wyoming.

The executive director of the local Head Start program, Joe Henry, says, “It has been a blessing. Qualified Native teachers, whether in Head Start or in the public schools, are role models for this and future generations of Native children.” Students in the program worked full-time while taking classes on weekends, evenings, and throughout the summer. Many of them have children of their own. Marlin Spoonhunter, president at WRTC, said all of the graduates needed support, not only from each other, but from their families and spouses and significant others.

The program was funded by Head Start, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office of Indian Education, and a $10,000 grant from the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. The DOE grant pays for tuition, books, and all related fees. The original grant for the first 15 students totaled $990,000.

Lana Shaughnessy, the DOE program officer in charge of the project, said the department has given 23 such grants to institutions around the country, which train Native teachers and, in a few cases, school administrators. To repay the government for its investment, students who complete the program agree to work one year for every year they went to school. For teaching service to count as repayment, they must work in a school on a reservation or in a school with a high concentration of Native students, Schaughnessy explains.

The program presented significant challenges for the students, WRTC, and UWO. The university quickly discovered that the students in the Wind River cohort were unprepared for online learning. Some needed access to broadband Internet, while others lacked the requisite computer expertise. Consequently, UWO hired local instructors and flew some instructors from Wisconsin to Wyoming.

Daniel Fee, who travelled to Wyoming once a month to teach his course in four concentrated weekends, says he has rarely encountered such dedicated students. Another instructor, Susan Finkel, compares the students’ performance to the best work of traditional students at UWO who are mostly young, middleclass people without the burdens of raising children or working full time. “We are delighted by the depth of thinking and the communication,” she says.

Thanks to Ernie Over of County 10/Buckrail.com and to Ron Feemster of WyoFile for their reporting on this story

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