Head Start students get grand graduation ceremony thanks to proactive parent committees

By Tim Wohlers

Children who attended Head Start this year took part in graduation ceremonies throughout the state, on May 11, to get recognized for everything they accomplished over the past nine months. 
“It’s for every child,” said center director of the Neenk Chungra Head Start Kathy Witkus.  “They get a two-year certificate or a one-year certificate.  But they’re all involved.”   
One such ceremony was held at HCG-Wisconsin Dells, for students who went to the Head Start just a few miles away.  And in emulation of a typical high-school or college graduation, the students walked across a stage to receive their certificates.  Graduates even wore the traditional cap and gown. 
“It’s a cute event,” said president of the parent committee David Abangan.  “And it was pretty successful.” 
Remaining true to custom, parents gave graduation gifts to the children after they got their certificates.  This year’s gift was a brand-new bicycle, which was bestowed upon each of the graduates. 
“It’s an added thing,” Abangan said.  “Everyone that graduates, whether it’s Head Start or college, gets some sort of present.  And hopefully, they get gifts every time they accomplish things like this.” 
The event proved possible because of Abangan and everyone else on the parent committee, and all their fundraising efforts.  Without them, the ceremony may not have happened at all. 
“The Nation doesn’t provide a significant budget to do all these things for the Head Starts,” Abangan said.  “So it’s up to the parents to make it happen.” 
To raise money, several fundraisers were held through the school year – including a garage sale, a bake sale, and a Thanksgiving-basket raffle.  And according to Abangan, the main contributors were actually the parents themselves. 
“This group of parents was great to work with,” Abangan said.  “We were just a good, active group of people that were genuinely interested in raising money and doing all these fun things.” 
Thanks to those efforts, the children were able to attend various field trips throughout the year.  Such excursions included visits to the library, the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory and a viewing of Jack and the Beanstalk. 
“We do whatever our budget allows,” Abangan said.  “Whatever money we have is voted on by the parents, to decide what things to do throughout the year.” 
Although the parent committee made most of those trips possible, Abangan and his fellow committee members said the Head Start deserves credit for everything it provides their children.     
“This Head Start program gives them a lot of opportunity to do a lot of diverse and different things,” Abangan said.  “So we’re really fortunate to be a part of that.” 
Staff members commended the parent committee, its commitment and all of its contributions.  They said that the parents who were on it played a large part in making this year’s program successful. 
“The parents did a lot of fundraising,” Witkus said.  “They were thinking of the children.” 
Other graduation ceremonies took place in Tomah, Wittenberg, Black River Falls and Nekoosa.  At each location, students participated in events similar to the one in Wisconsin Dells.   
Wittenberg’s ceremony was held at the new Siga Funmaker Community Center that opened in February, and included a choreographed dance to Singing in the Rain that the children performed for their parents.  The graduates were then given gifts as well. 
“They were purchased through the efforts of the parent committee,” said Family and Community Partnership Coordinator Anne Koester.  “They received scooters, a helmet and a summer fun bucket.” 
Nekoosa’s Head Start students were given new bicycles, a t-ball set and other outdoor games.  All the gifts were purchased with money raised by parents. 
“These items were purchased by the parent committee,” said Family Services Coordinator Heidi Elsen.  “That is very active in our program.” 
All the parents thought their graduates would enjoy a summer off with some new wheels.  They said they hope that, by September, their kids will be ready for the start of a long academic career. 
“I don’t know what kindergarten is going to be like,” Abangan said.  “But as a parent, I want to be actively involved with her education throughout her entire life as much as I can.  So we’ll see what comes in front of us.” 
Next year’s group of parents has already started to plan fundraisers for Head Start and the year ahead, which will begin in September.