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NIFA Grant Supports Staffing at Tribal College Pre-School

Media Contact:
Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

By Jill Lee, NIFA Staff
October 27, 2009

haskell
Cory Deer leads pre-school children around Haskell Indian Nations University in search of Halloween candy.

It’s been a special homecoming for Cory Deer. Last Halloween found him dressed up as "SpongeBob SquarePants" leading delighted, squealing, pre-school children on candy crusade across the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University. Only a few years earlier he’d sprinted across that same campus to attend classes to earn his bachelor’s degree in education.

Haskell’s Little Nations Academic Center is a place of learning not only for Deer’s pre-school children, but for Haskell’s older students, as well. All education majors at Haskell must complete 20 hours of observation at the center. Funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Tribal Colleges Extension Services Program (TCESP) supports hiring qualified staff and center activities.

"I enjoyed seeing the look on the children’s faces when I came to school dressed as SpongeBob," said Deer, who serves as director for Haskell’s Little Nations Academic Center while working on his master’s in special education at the University of Kansas.  "What appealed to me most about this job was the opportunity to work with children in the atmosphere of Native Americans. I wanted to make Little Nations Academic Center a better place by bringing my experiences as an early childhood educator in the Lawrence School District."

"I am very proud of our center director, Cory Deer," said Dr. Russell Blackbird, Haskell’s dean of education. He had the opportunity to observe Deer as a student teacher while he was still studying at Haskell. Blackbird said Deer’s strongest contribution has been creating a guidelines and policy handbook for parents, but there is more he has done.

"He has significantly increased parent involvement. He also developed and implemented a childhood curriculum, an assessment to measure growth, and increased educational activities for the children," Blackbird said.

TCESP has the dual mission of increasing extension program capacity at tribal colleges (1994 land-grant institutions) and addressing special-needs projects that will yield long-term sustained benefits at these schools.  Little Nations, for example, not only serves as a living laboratory for future educators—an important consideration in this funding program—but also promotes an important community goal of ensuring child welfare. Like many of these grant programs, the learning also includes building knowledge of native history and culture.  

"Cory involves the children in cultural activities on campus," Blackbird said. "Everyone appreciates how awareness of native culture is implemented frequently throughout the year."

Haskell has also formed partnerships with the University of Kansas to assist with special evaluations of children as needed or any other support the university system can provide. Little Nations Academic Center is operating at capacity with 21 students, ranging in age from 6 weeks to 5 years; there is a waiting list large enough to fill another classroom. Still, Cory Deer, like all good administrators, worries.

"Funding is always a challenge," he said. "The USDA grant we receive helps tremendously with paying the two lead teachers’ salaries and the monthly fees paid by parents pay for the two assistant teachers. This leaves limited funds for supplies, snacks, building improvements and playground equipment."

Running daycare is definitely not child’s play—even if SpongeBob SquarePants is the director.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.

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