UNFC giving kids a ‘head start’

Although the United Native Friendship Centre here has been holding its “head start” program for aboriginal youth for the past five years, co-ordinator Charity McMahon still finds herself getting excited with each new year.
“Each time we hold this program, we get a new group of children to work with,” she noted. “They are always very eager to learn and you can’t help but be proud of the accomplishments they make during the two months they are with us.”
Through the program, aboriginal children aged three-five are introduced to a series of lessons designed to help make their transition into a regular school setting easier.
“Through the program, we try to address the needs of aboriginal children,” said McMahon. “The program is actually run through Health Canada and we [UNFC] act as the sponsors.”
Created in an effort to meet the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of aboriginal youth, McMahon believes the classes are invaluable in ensuring the success of these children in the school system.
“We try to teach the children how to be school ready,” she explained. “There are six components to the program and we use them to plan the curriculum.
“Essentially, the program is made up of culture and language, education, health, nutrition, social support programs, and parental involvement.”
While the program is designed specifically for aboriginal youth, McMahon stressed non-native children also are welcome to participate in it.
“We certainly do not want to discourage other children to be a part of these classes,” she said. “In fact, we have had many parents happy that their children are able to learn a bit about another culture.”
In addition to the curriculum they’re taught, children in the program also are given the chance to socialize with kids their own age–something McMahon feels is very important.
“This program is really great because it gets children ready for school,” she enthused. “[But] in addition to the educational aspects they learn about, they also learn how to interact with other children.
“Going into a classroom of 30 to 40 children all of sudden can cause some problems for children,” she noted. “Through the ‘head start’ program, they get a chance to work alongside other kids and develop social skills they may not have otherwise had.”
With only seven weeks of classes, McMahon is always surprised by the changes the children exhibit at the end of the summer.
“Our final class is always a very big deal,” she said. “It is quite remarkable to see just how much self-esteem these children seem to acquire in such a short amount of time.
“I have also been very fortunate to hear back from a lot of families who tell me that they really think the program served their child well,” McMahon continued.
“It is great to know we are doing what we set out to do.”