Wyandotte Nation Preschool celebrates 25 years

Wyandotte Nation Preschool Staff, pictured from left, (Back) Cristi Hudson, Nick Wills, Sharon Bartley, Shirley Mangum, Ashley Taffner, Cheryl Burleson. (Front) Loretta Combes, Becky Johnson, Tammy Charles, Leesa Hibbard, Debbie Scribner. Not pictured: Jolene Tucker. (William Swaim/Wyandotte Nation)

Wyandotte Nation Preschool Staff, pictured from left, (Back) Cristi Hudson, Nick Wills, Sharon Bartley, Shirley Mangum, Ashley Taffner, Cheryl Burleson. (Front) Loretta Combes, Becky Johnson, Tammy Charles, Leesa Hibbard, Debbie Scribner. Not pictured: Jolene Tucker. (William Swaim/Wyandotte Nation)

By William Swaim / Wyandotte Nation

The Wyandotte Nation Preschool has seen several significant changes in its years, but one thing has been a constant in its 25 years – it’s ongoing tradition and commitment to excellence as one of the best in the nation.
“We have faith in our children and the Wyandotte Nation has faith in the staff,” said Wyandotte Nation Education Director Tammy Charles. “We offer Kumon Math to assist with the foundation for our children. This program has been tested over the years and yields high results. The Wyandotte Nation Preschool has consistently had multiple students in the top 10 of the nation.”
The Preschool celebrated its 25th year Jan. 9 as faculty wore special commemorative T-shirts.
Charles, who took over as Education Director in 2010 for Carla Culver, said the preschool originated as a daycare with 24 children. When it transformed into a preschool, there were 30 students and currently the program has 80 students enrolled.
“Since I became the director, we have four classrooms for Preschool with capacity for 80 and our full service before and after school program has doubled in numbers attending,” Charles said.
Culver was the first director of the preschool and remained in the position until she retired in 2010.
“Even though there are so many programs now for 4-year olds, the Wyandotte Nation program is still near the top,” Culver said. “That speaks well for the program.
“It’s a great thing for the community. It serves the needs of those working parents, who know their kids are in a quality program and are being well taken care of.”
As for her time as director, Culver said she loved it, even as they dealt with space issues from the beginning.
An Indian child welfare grant initially funded the child care. It was DHS licensed and it was in the little brick building on the hill. That building was overhauled by volunteer manpower prior to opening the day care with 24 children.
When the initial grant ended, then Executive Director, Les Cusher contacted Ron Kaiser to write a grant to propose developing a preschool with Culver. The program was one of four that was funded in the United States and it began with 30 students. Prior to the implementation of all-day Kindergarten, it operated an afternoon program for those children.
“At that time, there were no 4-year old programs. To be one of four funded in the U.S. was very prestigious for such a small tribe,” Culver said.
The program moved into its current location with the assistance of a Child Care and Development Block Grant. The Carla Culver Education Center, also constructed with CCDBG funds, was formally dedicated in 2007.
The Wyandotte Nation Preschool was a national model for preschools in 1993. The program started with a staff of four and now has a staff of 10 full-time and 4 part-time employees. Among those employees is Sharon Bartley, who has been there since the beginning.
“I have enjoyed working for the Wyandotte Nation for 26 years.  I started when it was a daycare,” Bartley said. “It was an exciting day when the announcement was made that a grant had been awarded to the Tribe and we would become a Preschool.
“I have witnessed growth in buildings and students.  From a little red brick building to a new facility.  I have had the pleasure watching former students return with their children to attend the preschool.  To me that speaks volumes about the legacy of the preschool.”
Charles said several of the children currently enrolled are children of former students.
She said thanks to the support of the Wyandotte Administration, the Preschool has been able to provide opportunities for students many public school students don’t have.
“We have special events throughout the year and the staff work hard each day to give their very best,” Charles said. “Our students are very fortunate to have opportunities that public schools often times can’t afford, such as trips to local colleges for theater productions and field trips to local venues for educational programs.”
As for the future, Charles said the Carla Culver Education Center will be receiving an addition in 2015 that will be a multi-purpose room constructed to FEMA safe room standards. Plans are also being developed for a new play structure to be erected on the front playground.
“The sky is the limit!” she said.

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