Community celebrates opening of Educare Winnebago

Educare Winnebago

“Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is more powerful than hope. With hope, one can think, one can work, one can dream.”

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska celebrated the grand opening of Educare Winnebago on Oct. 17 in Winnebago, NE, and Portia Kennel, executive director of the Educare Learning Network, shared this quote, adapted from Charles Sawyer, during the ceremony to express the importance of education.

Educare Winnebago is the Winnebago Tribe’s new early childhood education center that is serving more than 150 infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Educare is a coast-to-coast network of 20 full-day, year-round schools that helps at-risk children develop a strong foundation in life.

Educare Winnebago is the first Educare school in a Native American community, and many hope this facility will inspire other tribes to initiate similar projects. As part of providing high quality care and education, this school will teach children in Ho-Chunk, the Winnebago language, and will honor the local culture and traditions.

Travois New Markets was proud to provide funding for the center through the New Markets Tax Credit program, and I was extremely honored for the opportunity to attend the grand opening and see hope in action. Eden Rensing, Travois communications coordinator, joined me for the celebration.

It was held on a beautiful fall morning at the school, and the center was packed with community members, tribal leaders and educators, the project’s public and private partners, school families and the media.

We also heard remarks from Tribal Chairman John Blackhawk, Darla LaPointe, executive director of the school; Susie Buffett, chair of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund; and Linda Smith, deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A theme that many speakers shared was that the Winnebago Tribe saw a need to improve education for its children, and it collaborated with the community, parents, project partners and educators to create the project and offer its children the best start in life.

Educare children took a turn in the spotlight at the ceremony. They treated the audience to a superb performance of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Ho-Chunk.

It was especially heartwarming to hear from a mother and father whose children attend Educare Winnebago.

The mother, Deliah Kearnes, has seen changes in her young children. Before Educare, her 4-year-old son started out hating school and didn’t want to ride the bus. Now he says he wants to be a teacher so he can stay in his teacher’s class forever. Deliah said she has seen her nearly 2-year-old daughter increase her vocabulary, speak more clearly, and she has even been pointing out colors – like pink! She is very grateful for the teachers and staff at Educare.

“All your efforts are greatly appreciate by the parents,” she said. “Thank you for taking such good care of our children.”

Kristofor Marrufo, a father of two children who attend Educare, also spoke before he sang in Ho-Chunk. He explained that in their culture, the drum is used to celebrate. Listen to a clip of him here.

He said, “It’s almost like family here, how they treat our children” and the fact that educators instill their language and ways means a lot. The singing and drumming closed the grand opening program.

After the ceremony, a master teacher named Jessica led us on a tour and told us more about the school. Keep an eye out for photos from the tour that I’ll share in another blog soon.

It was a joyous, momentous day, and we congratulate the Winnebago Tribe and all of the project partners! Thank you for including Travois in the project and the celebration.