Benefits of Aboriginal Head Start

AHS is making a difference for...

Making a Difference for Parents and Families

Aboriginal Head Start has greatly helped some parents become more engaged in their own lives, as well as further invested in their children’s futures, through direct participation as a parent. For many, the shared experience of ‘who they are’ has changed their lives dramatically, resulting in personal growth and well being from the support of belonging to the AHS community.

“I learned through AHS that the school cared about my child’s best interest, and then soon realized that the school wasn’t such a scary place. Then I was able to go to the public schools and speak on my oldest son’s behalf; he was later diagnosed with dyslexia. If it had not been for AHS, I don’t know if I ever would have been comfortable with staff in the public school.” – Glenna Johnson: Family Involvement Worker and Former Parent, Kermode AHS

“Before I came here, I was quiet and I wasn’t able to talk… and from being on the PAC and talking to the parents, I opened up more. I had a really good experience.”

– Jessica Field: Former Parent, Power of Friendship AHS

“I was really shy, I still am shy. I guess being a part of Head Start has let me come out of my shell a bit. When I first was a parent I would never talking the meetings… but near the end I was a lot more outgoing… (Head Start staff) actually pushed me to start working at the Friendship Centre…There was a job opening there and the staff here (Prince George AHS) encourage me to apply for it. They were always really supportive.” – Crystal Whitehawk: Former Parent, Prince George AHS

“I had a parent who was afraid to leave her home – really afraid to leave her home, she would not. We got her into the program… she joined the Parent Advisory Committee and we dragged her out to a couple meetings in Vancouver. She’s just a totally different person today, it’s just amazing. She’s going back to school, she’s involved in the community, she volunteers, and she’s just a totally different person.” – Janice Silver: Program Coordinator, Future 4 Nations AHS

As their children gain a sense of identity from the Head Start experiences, so do the parents. In fact, it was common in interviews with Head Start parents to hear that they have reconnected with their cultures through the lessons their children learn in the preschool and share at home. Parents like Crystal Whitehawk, from Prince George AHS, express how they “didn’t know [their] Native culture growing up” and feel that programs like AHS are fantastic, and filling a void they experienced in their own youth. Annette Francis, a former university co-op student at Future 4 Nations AHS in Mission, BC, stated she’s “… learned a lot more of my culture being in Head Start too”, and that Head Start “…helped me too, not only my children, it helps me to know where I belong.”

“I have seen so many of my nieces, my nephews, my own children, little cousins, go through this program and take so many things home. As for me, I was never exposed as a child to the Native culture as the kids are today... I’m very thankful that my kids came home every day and they would teach me how to say different things... how to count in Beaver, how to count in Cree, how to say ‘Mom and Dad’…They’ve learned the dancing, the culture, the tipis, the drying and the baking, the tanning.” – Jessica Testawitch: Parent, Sas Natsadle AHS

“I was brought up in white foster homes. I never knew anything about the culture until I started [my daughter] in Head Start, and with me being here working and learning as I go.” – Lorraine Fusta: Cook, Prince George AHS

“One dad came back years later to thank us for changing their lives. He said when his daughter first started preschool here, the family just ate junk food in front of the TV. She would tell them, ‘No chips, buy carrots’ and ‘Let’s sit at the table instead of in the living room.’ The dad said, ‘Now every meal is good food and we eat together as a family, because of Head Start.’”

– Maria Evenden: Parent & Staff, Power of Friendship AHS

“I teach songs and games to the children with the Kwakwaka'wakw background… The kids are such wonderful children. To see them learning the culture and learning to sing on their own and dance on their own, there’s no greater reward because they’re excited to learn it and do it. It’s a really good program… I really wish I had something like that, because I was 20 before I started learning, and I feel that if had this when I was 5, I would be a lot further than I am now. Gilakasla.” – Shawn Decaire: Cultural Teacher & Former Parent, Qwallayuw AHS

Many parents consider Aboriginal Head Start staff as family; people that have proven to be there in times of need, offering assistance and guidance when appropriate. Comments were made by participants at a number of Head Start sites describing staff as helpful when parents were dealing with marital break-ups, single parenting, and being newcomers in the area.

“I was at a time that I had just split up with my wife. There was a lot of good facilitation and help and resources and different things. We joined the board. It was cool to be on the board and be able to meet and get to know the teachers and staff pretty personally. I actually ended up working here for a little while – cooking and doing the kitchen work and the food prep and stuff for the kids, which I love doing too, I love the kids.” – Harley Rose: Former Parent, Eagle’s Nest AHS & Singing Frog AHS

“(AHS staff were) very friendly ladies. Totally understandable, they knew what I was going through and it seemed they did everything in their power to help me. They helped me raise my son for that year.” – Wayne Joseph: Parent, Power of Friendship AHS

“All the services that the Head Start program provides – the bus service, the food, those are some of the things that really make the program stand apart.” – River Hill: Parent & Volunteer, Singing Frog AHS

“It’s a really great program. It’s free to the public, so there’s no costs. A lot of parents can’t afford childcare for the children, or transportation. There’s also transportation available too for any families who don’t have vehicles, which is a big thing for lower income families.” – Justin Ethier: Family Support Worker, Comox Valley AHS

“This program is such a valuable resource for our families and children in the North East, in particular those that struggle financially and don’t have opportunities of placing their children into programs that allow parents to pursue higher learning.” – Darlene Conley: Program Coordinator, Sas Natsadle AHS