Program gives aboriginal children a head start

This May, Linda Hueloschwerlen will watch her son graduate high school. She credits his success, in part, to the Yukon aboriginal head start program.

This May, Linda Huebschwerlen will watch her son graduate high school. She credits his success, in part, to the Yukon aboriginal head start program.

Her son was one of the first Yukon children to take part in the program, which focuses on the social, cultural and intellectual growth of aboriginal preschoolers.

Friday afternoon, Huebschwerlen, also an educator in the program, was at the Yukon Inn to celebrate the results from the first ever evaluation of the Yukon program.

The Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities is a federally funded program that popped up in parts of Canada in 1995, and in the Yukon in 1996.

The Yukon has head start programs in Whitehorse, Teslin, Dawson City and Watson Lake.

“Because of the program, I saw (my son) come home with his Southern Tutchone language and culture and I was proud of that,” said Huebschwerlen, standing in a room crammed with the art and projects done by

aboriginal preschoolers from around the territory.

The head start program introduces three- and four-year-old children to their aboriginal culture and teaches them proper nutrition, language and social behaviour.

The evaluation found Yukon aboriginal preschoolers to be “average” in terms of social behaviour and school readiness when compared to other preschoolers in Canada.

The two-year study was a “snapshot” of kids before and after they entered the program, said program evaluator Jennifer Chalmers.

“What I’ve seen is that (the Yukon) has some of the best head start programs in Canada,” she said.

The Yukon got top marks for providing a safe and caring environment for kids, new equipment and furnishings and strong program supports for parents and staff members.

But there are still several areas that need improvement.

Yukon aboriginal preschoolers need to improve their literacy and comprehension skills and social behaviour, said Chalmers.

Language scores of Yukon children ranged from “minimal quality” to “excellent quality,” while their social skills ranged from “low average” to “high average.”

The study also found preschoolers could be better prepared in terms of “school readiness.”

The Yukon’s program scored slightly lower than the programs offered in the Northwest Territories.

The study involved the staff from each of the four head start programs in the Yukon, a unique and participative approach to evaluation, said Chalmers.

“It takes courage (for staff) to look at their program and say what works well and what needs improvement,” she said.

Although the program is still evolving, it’s absolutely essential said Huebschwerlen.

“It’s a way for these kids to get a start in life,” she said.

And it shows later on in life.

John Wright, the principle of Elijah Smith where Huebschwerlen’s son went to school, has noticed the effect the program has had on kids at his school.

“Those kids are just a little more advanced,” she’s heard him say.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com

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