CITY - Surrounded by graduates in caps and gowns, speaker Bruce Long
Fox congratulated the Class of 2002 on Friday and thanked members'
parents for setting them on the pathway to a solid future.
The students already have learned so much.
Just imagine what they'll do when they get to kindergarten.
At 4 and 5 years old, all 35 graduates
of Dakota Transitional Head Start will start kindergarten next fall
- and they're ready for the challenge.
"Really, Head Start just prepares
them for a kindergarten-classroom setting," DTHS director Anne
Reddy said. "They know what it's like to be at a school. They
learn how to socialize so that they can go and make friends."
Head Start is a national program that
provides developmental services to low-income preschoolers ages
3 to 5 and social services for their families. Like students in
any Head Start program, students at DTHS have learned basic math
concepts, language skills and motor development.
But DTHS students are different because
they also learn about Lakota language and culture. DTHS, a program
of Rural America Initiatives, is aimed at families who recently
have moved to Rapid City from American Indian reservations, and
most of its students are Lakota.
"Some of what we do here is the same
as any Head Start program across the nation," Reddy said. "But
we really try to show the children that their culture is important,
it's important to be proud of it. We try to do some self-esteem
On Friday, the self-esteem was evident
as the graduates took the stage at Mother Butler Center. Girls in
their best dresses and boys in neat blue jeans - one even wore a
tie - were honored with drum songs. They received medals and diplomas
as the audience clapped and relatives snapped photos.
Despite some fidgeting - and an occasional
wrestling match - the children didn't seem nervous. "He woke
up this morning all ready to come," said Bobbett Good Shield,
whose son, Robert Trueblood, graduated Friday.
Shaina Dreaming Bear was ready, too. "She's
been anxious for the past three days," her mom, Sheila Whiteface,
said. "She's been waiting and waiting to be big like her sisters."
Despite saying her favorite part of school
was "to graduate," Shaina already has big plans for her
"She loves babies, and she's already
planned for her future to deliver babies," Whiteface said.
"She's always saying, 'Mommy, I'm going to bring some babies
in, and I'm going to take care of them.'"
First, though, it was time to celebrate.
"This is a happy day," Ben Rhodd,
chairman of the Rural America Initiatives Board of Directors, said
Friday. "It's a good day that we have our children graduating
and having accomplished something. And we're here to honor them."
Parents were honored, too. Because while
Head Start helps children make a successful transition to a new
stage of life, it also helps parents do the same.
Head Start staffers provide parents with
information on such things as nutrition and traditional parenting,
and help them find housing, jobs and education.
"Our classrooms really serve as a
stable environment for those children until their families can get
settled," Reddy said, noting that some Head Start families
live in motels when they arrive in Rapid City.
Head Start's staff members know what it's
like to make that transition. Most DTHS employees were Head Start
parents themselves. The program hires as many of its parents as
possible, providing jobs and support as they improve their lives.
Shawnda Schumacher is one success story.
Her two children graduated from DTHS, and Schumacher has worked
there for six years. Now, she is family-services manager.
Meanwhile, she has attended Oglala Lakota
College and will graduate this spring with associate degrees in
elementary education and early-childhood education.
"I really give lots of credit to
the program," Schumacher said. "I really am grateful for
what they've done."