Native Head Start Program Opens at NVIT

With funding secured by the Conayt Friendship Society through the Aboriginal Head Start Association of BC (AHSABC), a new Aboriginal Head Start program will soon open in Merritt at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) .

According to Kelly L’Hirondelle, executive director of the Conayt Friendship Society, the new Head Start will receive $569,000 per year, plus pre-operating costs, which has facilitated the purchase of play equipment, supplies and kitchen utensils, as well as logistics and administrative equipment. NVIT provided a discounted lease, and the availability of suitable space on campus helped secure funding.

Conayt Head Start will provide child care Monday through Friday to twelve infants under 36 months and 16 toddlers ages 36 months to six years, at no cost to Indigenous families and the children of students and staff attending. the NVIT. Eight staff members, including early childhood educators (ECEs) and ECE assistants, as well as a cook to manage nutrition programs, will be recruited.

“Food is an important element in our Indigenous communities, so we will follow the Indigenous Food Guide, there will be a cook on site who will prepare nutritious meals for them,” said L’Hirondelle.

L’Hirondelle has previous experience with Head Start, having opened one as part of the Metis Kelowna Community Services Society.

“It’s such an amazing program to be able to offer full-time, Monday-Friday daycare that is cultural in nature. »

The focus will be on Indigenous teachings and cultural awareness, with children learning Indigenous singing, drumming and languages. There will also be ‘land’ excursions, where children will be taken outside to learn traditional skills. NVIT is a prime location for this as the campus backs onto the Merritt Benches and also has a traditional medicine garden.

“They’re very parent- and community-focused,” L’Hirondelle said, noting that there’s a parent council that helps guide the programming.

“There’s also a lot of elder involvement, there’s funding to give honoraria to elders to participate in certain cultural programs.

Conayt has a group of active alumni, and several of them have already expressed interest in participating in cultural activities.

In addition to traditional teachings, Head Start is similar to a preschool program, focusing on kindergarten readiness and teaching children basic life skills.

“A lot of it is about basic things like washing your hands and learning to potty, cleaning up after yourself and sharing, that sort of thing,” L’Hirondelle explained.

“It’s a mixture of your average preschool teachings, but mixed with a lot of indigenous culture, it’s rooted in indigenous culture.”

The six core principles of Aboriginal Head Start, to which the Conayt Head Start program will adhere, are:

1) culture and language

2) education and school readiness

3) health promotion

4) power supply

5) involvement of parents and family

6) social support

The fact that the program is free for families is also a game-changer, according to L’Hirondelle.

“Childcare is so expensive that after housing, it’s the second biggest cost for families,” L’Hirondelle said.

“And with the cost of living, especially after the floods in Merritt, you can imagine if you went to daycare and you had to pay $1200 to $1400 and now you don’t have to pay that, how much money plus you would have to put in your family, or save to buy a house, things like that.

“The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology welcomes the new partnership with Conayt Friendship Society and the Metis Society to offer an Aboriginal Head Start program at the Merritt campus,” said Sue Sterling-Bur, Vice President of Students at NVIT.

“NVIT recognizes the importance of early childhood development, and we are thrilled that Conayt provides spiritually nurturing and culturally safe child care that will provide Indigenous children with the best chance for healthy growth and development.

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