Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Early Advantage: Tribe Provides Education for Children in Poverty

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Early Advantage: Tribe Provides Education for Children in Poverty

Article excerpt

ADA - Catie Hamilton's mother wanted the best for her children.

When Hamilton was a toddler, her mother worked as a licensed practical nurse at a nursing home. She worked long, late hours to provide for Hamilton and her brother.

Since the family lived on only her mother's income, Hamilton qualified to enroll in the Chickasaw Nation's Head Start program when she was 4 years old. The program offered her the educational enrichment her mother didn't have time to provide.

"It prepared me to go into kindergarten," Hamilton said. "I knew my ABCs and how to count to 100. I know from stories that my mother told me that I was starting to read. I was pretty far advanced going into kindergarten."

Hamilton is one of many children who have passed through the Chickasaw Nation's early childhood education programs. The tribe has two different outreaches; one is for children age birth to 5, and the second is the Head Start, a federal program specifically designed for lower-income children 3 to 5 years old.

The tribe operates Head Start centers in Ada, Sulphur, Ardmore and Tishomingo. There is only one child development center, based in Ada, with a second under construction in Ardmore.

The tribe opened its Head Start in the 1980s, and then later added the CDCs. Head Start programs began in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. Head Start has served more than 30 million children.

The program is important in Pontotoc County because of its lower- income residents. Between 2009 and 2013, 18.8 percent of the county lived below the federal poverty level, while the statewide number for that time was 16.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The federal poverty level is $11,770 of annual income for individuals and $15,930 for a family of two. Studies show that children born into poverty have emotional and educational disadvantages compared to their more fortunate peers, which is where Head Start comes into play.

Chickasaw Nation Executive Officer of Education Danny Wells said education has long been a top priority for the tribe, which is spread across south-central Oklahoma.

"We all understand education opens a lot of doors," Wells said. …

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