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Head Start celebrates 40 years

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 Forty years ago Daren Incashola was a little guy playing with blocks during his time at a Head Start in St. Ignatius. He was 4 years old. He would grow up and send his two children to the child development program for children ages birth to 5.

On Friday, Incashola helped celebrate Head Start’s 40th Anniversary during their annual powwow at the Ronan Event Center where many families and staff members danced with the help of several drum groups. Many young children wore moccasins given to them by the Head Start program to celebrate the event. And because Incashola was one of the first to be in Head Start, he was chosen as the “head man” during the grand entry.

“It gives kids a good head start so they are ready for school,” Incashola said of the program, adding that his mother, Denise Incashola, was a Head Start teacher for 20 years. 

Head Start began as a summer program in Arlee and St. Ignatius before funding became available to expand it across the reservation. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were tasked with dispersing federal funding to the program, and they also contribute to it. Head Start was able to establish centers for children in Polson, Ronan, and Dixon. Children in Elmo and Pablo are also transported to the program.

About 90 children attend Head Start programs organized by the Flathead Indian Reservation Early Childhood Services program with a focus on education, health, and parental involvement. 

Jeanne Christopher started with the program about 40 years ago as a cook and bus driver until she was asked to be the director.
“It was the best day of my life,” she said. 
Each day children show up to the program to learn through play and activities designed for their age level. It’s also an opportunity to socialize.
“The things they learn get them ready for life,” she said of the daily activities that include story time, play time and meal time. “Our program is strength based to help kids feel confident about themselves.”
Native American languages are part of the activities during the day. Likok Felix helps children learn Salish at the Head Start program in Ronan. For Head Start teacher Millie Woodcock-Schmidt, seeing the children learn is rewarding.
“I love to see the growth and progress they make,” she said adding that she enjoys seeing the kids come back to “say hi” after they have graduated from the program. 
During the powwow, Deborah Eagle Speaker, 4, danced with a pink shawl and several of her friends. After dancing, she explained what she does at Head Start.
“I play on the playground. My friends play with me. We play a lot,” she said before getting back to her dancing.

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