by Marty Brown
Northern News Services
NNSL (Feb 10/97) - Aboriginal pre-schoolers in 13 communities across the North will soon have a better chance of keeping up with their peers.
The Aboriginal Head Start program provides preparation for some children so they will be on par with their peers when they start kindergarten.
"Some kids need an extra boost going into school," said Kate Ford, director of the program in Arctic Bay. "It could be because of a slight hearing program that the child needs a little help."
The federally-funded program focuses on meeting emotional, social, health, nutritional, spiritual and psychological needs of aboriginal children.
It's also designed to be fun, with stories and play areas, craft projects and sometimes just generally getting messy built right into the curriculum.
Kugluktuk's program is set to open its doors to 22 pre-schoolers today, some referred to it by the department of Health and Social Services.
"We're really excited about the program because it enhances cultural identity. It's total immersion in our language (Inuvialuktun)," said program co-ordinator Millie Kuliktana.
Although there are already nursery school programs in some Northern communities, Judith Wright-Bird from the Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith said few aboriginal children attend.
"It's a 'fee for service' in our area," she said, making the nearly $5 million in federal funding for the project a boost to kids who need it.
Children in Fort Smith will have a toy-lending library and in Gjoa Haven there's plans under way for a similar program.
Other projects such as day camping, snacks of country food and sharing circles are also expected to be part of the program.
Parents or primary care-givers and elders will be closely involved in teaching, skill development and program activities.
"In fact, we're hoping for community involvement," said Deanna Clugston, principal of the Quqshuun Ilihakvik Centre in Gjoa Haven and one of the supporters of the program in her community.
The Head Start program actually serves two purposes, Clugston said. Parents or care-givers learn to interact with children and children learn social and academic skills.
Children between three and five years old will learn how traditional values can be applied to everyday life.
Cultural traditions such as dry fish- and meat-making and berry-picking will be stressed in the Western Arctic.
Wright-Bird hopes elders will also teach children a few words in Chipewyan or Cree.
Most of the programs will be run out of classrooms in schools but in Fort Smith a old government building is being moved especially for the purpose.
Children from Fort McPherson, Fort Providence, Fort Smith, Gjoa Haven, Coral Harbour, Arctic Bay, Arviat, Taloyoak, Igloolik, Kugluktuk, Paulatuk, the Hay River Dene Reserve and Yellowknife's Dene First Nation will get a chance to explore their culture and language in a pre-school setting with Head Start.