Children’s development program builds new facility, classrooms in Shawnee

Molly Kruse
CTSA Head Start's new facility under construction.

A young children’s development program is building a new facility in Shawnee for its classes that will open in mid-August.

Central Tribes of the Shawnee Area Head Start provides free to low-cost, native-based care and education for children ages zero to five at its Shawnee, Stroud and Cushing locations. When its old classrooms became infested with mold and structural damages they had to be torn down, and the children were moved to temporary classrooms.

“We just are really getting a top-of-the-line center put in,” said Sherry Marsh, executive director of CTSA Head Start. “I’m excited.”

The new facilities are paid for by a $2,828,000 grant, and will include seven classrooms, new staff offices, a kitchen and a dance circle.

“A lot of kids don’t understand that you can’t run across the dance floor, the Native American dance floor; there’s certain traditions,” Marsh said. “So we are going to try to get the children to understand some of the tribal traditions, and have people come in and do some exhibitions.”

CTSA Head Start teaches social and emotional skills to prepare children for kindergarten, and gives them mental health, hearing, speech and vision assessments. This makes sure that “everything can be caught before they hit the public schools,” Marsh said.

The program is open to all children, but it incorporates Native American culture into its curriculum.

“We add a lot of culture to our lesson plans and bring a lot of culture to our centers, just a variety of culture, because we serve several tribes in this area,” said Carissa Hinton, program director for CTSA Head Start.

The program also emphasizes family involvement.

Parents are allowed to volunteer in the classrooms whenever they want, and also sit on a board and decide on policy changes. CTSA Head Start provides an opportunity for parents who may have traditions or culture in their home to add that to the lesson plan, Hinton said.

“We’re child based, but we work with the whole family, because that’s where that child comes we want to make sure they’re good when they leave our program too,” Hinton said.

Hinton said the program also tries to offer childcare at a lower cost than what might normally be available, through grants it receives every five years. The morning half of Head Start programs are free, while it charges a fee for the afternoon half.

Alicia Fields is a parent-turned-employee who put all of her children through the program. She chose CTSA Head Start both because it is culturally-based and because she could participate in the program, too, she said.

“It was welcoming for everybody,” Fields said. “You could come and just volunteer in the classroom or be in the classroom with the child.”

Some of Fields’ favorite activities her children took part in were a medical helicopter tour, a fire truck tour from the fire department and yearly field trips to the zoo. In her current position, she enjoys seeing kids’ growth overtime as they learn new social skills.

“It’s been rewarding seeing some of our kids come from the first day to where we are now,” Fields said. “Some of them that wouldn’t even open up, some of them that didn’t want to talk and interact with activities and song and they’re loving it, you know.”