A teacher as a tour guide: Educare Winnebago

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska celebrated the opening of Educare Winnebago at an inspiring grand opening last month. Educare Winnebago is the tribe’s new early childhood education center that is serving more than 150 infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

If you aren’t familiar with Educare, it is a coast-to-coast network of 20 full-day, year-round schools. Travois New Markets helped fund the project, and I was honored to attend the grand opening to see the school in action.

Eden Rensing, communications coordinator, and I were lucky enough to hear all about the school from Jessica Fischer, a master teacher, who led us on a tour. Jessica did a wonderful job explaining the details that are universal to all Educare schools while also telling us how Educare Winnebago is unique.

At all Educare schools, each child stays with the same team of three teachers from birth to age 3, and then he or she is moved to another team from ages 3 to 5. This means parents have the opportunity to really get to know the teachers and build a strong relationship. For children, this means they have consistency and a strong routine, which helps them as they develop. As a mom myself, this is a remarkable concept to me, and I imagine it will make a huge impact on the families and children through the years.

Jessica introduced herself as a “master teacher.” I was unfamiliar with that term, and Jessica explained that master teachers are an extra layer of support; they help the classroom teachers who work directly with the children. Master teachers lead a team of four classrooms (with three teachers each) that meet weekly to share progress and get feedback and coaching. Jessica pointed out she has windows in her office that look into the classrooms so she can see how the children are doing at any time. What a great idea!

Jessica showed us into a few of the classrooms. We saw one teacher soothing a baby who was swaddled to a cradleboard. Jessica explained that this is a cultural tradition that Educare Winnebago incorporates into childcare; the school worked with the state of Nebraska for permission to use cradleboards with infants.

Ho-Chunk, the Winnebago language, is also taught, and we were treated to a performance of children singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Ho-Chunk earlier in the day during the grand opening ceremony.

In the classrooms, it was also really neat to see teachers sitting at tiny tables with the children while they ate or listened to stories. Jessica said that the school does not use high chairs; teachers get down on the children’s level to interact.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was visiting the playgrounds outside. There is so much space for the little ones to run around and get fresh air and fun, colorful playground equipment to play on. Jessica explained there are garden areas for the children to grow traditional plants and food once spring arrives. We also saw the smallest, cutest basketball goal.

In addition to seeing the beautiful, state-of-the-art facility, I was overwhelmed with the number of adorable (and well-behaved) babies and kids. Thank you to Jessica for the tour and hospitality! The Winnebago Tribe is truly offering its children the best start in life.

Here are a few photos from the tour. Find more on our project map.