Limited services and program updates from the Department of Education

By Ardith Van Riper

     The Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Education continues limited services during these uncertain times.  Like many other departments within the Nation, the workforce has been temporarily reduced, and remaining employees take on additional responsibilities. 

     The Education Department altered programs and services in response to situations caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Each division within the department provided a brief update.

     Higher Education Division
     On April 6, an announcement stated the Higher Education Division’s scholarship program resumes.  This announcement means that Ho-Chunk postsecondary students attending a non-profit title IV eligible institution could apply for the upcoming summer 2020 term.  A limited number of scholarships are available for the fall 2020 term.

     “We encourage students to be proactive,” said Dr. Marcus Lewis, the Higher Education Division Manager.

     Applicants should apply as soon as possible, and not every student who submits an application will receive a scholarship.  Scholarship awards remain on a first-completed, first-served basis.  Applicants are encouraged to check their emails for a request of information letter, follow up, submit requested documents as soon as the materials become available, and remain in contact with the Higher Education Division.

     Currently, only the Higher Education Division Manager and the Financial Aid Administrator, Diane Rave, remain in the office.  Both offer academic advising and advocates for students at their schools. 

     Unfortunately, all other support programs remain suspended.  These programs include the College Access Program, Graduation Achievement Awards, Study Abroad, Membership Fees, Professional Development Conferences or Workshops, and Travel Expenses.

     However, deadlines for the Graduation Achievement Awards will be extended based on when things return to normalcy.

     As of April 17, the Higher Education Division cannot speak on the availability of scholarships for winterim courses or the upcoming spring term.

     Higher Education Division applications and a link to the Student Portal Access are located at  Questions can be emailed to

     School Community Relations

     A resolution by the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature allocated funds to the Pre K-12 Grant Program specifically for the ‘Internet Access Support for Students’ grant.  Starting April 20, applications will be accepted for this grant only.  Assistance taken into consideration is made for the months of March to June.

     All other grants typically offered by the Pre K-12 Grant Program are currently suspended at this time.

     A fillable Pre K-12 Education Grant Program application is located at  

     Now, only the School Community Relations Director, Bethany Redbird, remains in the office.  Questions and completed grant applications can be emailed to her at

     Cultural and Community Education

     Another resolution by the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature suspended the Financial Literacy final proctored exam requirement for accessing a trust fund.  Instead, the tribal member must complete fifteen hours of tutorials and pass a minimum of two posttests with a score of eighty percent or better.

     Email questions for the Financial Literacy Program to  

     Those with Trust Fund inquiries must be aware that three divisions collaborate, and not all inquiries should be directed to the Department of Education.  The Enrollment Division and the Treasury Department also play a role in accessing children’s trust funds.

     Contact the Enrollment Division at 715-284-7824 or toll-free at 800-331-7824.  Contact the Treasury Department at 715-284-1660 or toll-free at 800-779-2873.

     Head Start Program

     The Head Start Centers follow their local school district guidelines and requirements and are all currently closed.  The staff continues to work and have adapted by making new plans to carry on the business of engaging our children in learning and working with families.  Staff remain in contact with guardians and provide necessary resources.

     “It is without question that our parents are heroes!” explained Head Start Division Manager Laurel Meek.  “In addition to all they already do, now they are the ‘direct contact teachers’ for their children.”

     The Center teachers have set up private messenger sites, so the staff connects with the students, and students can see other students’ photos.  Staff provide live stream story time, read bedtime stories, share virtual interactive I-Spy games, share virtual interactive math learning, and share science lessons live.  The team also offer virtual field trips, share inexpensive gardening project tips, offer nutrition experiences by sharing recipes, and live footage of food preparation.  

     Culturally, the Language Department and head start staff provide virtual Ho-Chunk language lessons and share prayers in Ho-Chunk at mealtime.

     Physically, staff provide workout exercises, offer both outdoor and indoor activities, yoga, and the Health Department provide ideas to keep the kids active.

     The Head Start Centers also participate in teacher parades.  Staff follows the school bus in their cars to each student’s house, sing songs to the children, and dispense school work.  The team wants the children to know they are thinking of them.  The staff and families observe and practice social distancing during these teacher parades.

     Staff also distribute a plethora of information, not only about COVID-49 but details about dealing with stress and anxiety during this time.  Also provided are resource information about unemployment benefits, access to free diapers and formula, food resources, and any other necessary resources that pertain to parents’ voiced concerns.

     The department wants the Ho-Chunk Nation membership to know that despite these uncertain times, they are not alone.  The Department of Education’s phone number is 715-284-4915 or toll-free at 800-362-4476.