Sandpillow Head Start celebrates another successful school year

By Tim Wohlers

The Puzaki Pei Cinak Head Start held its graduation ceremony in Black River Falls this month, to recognize the dozen or so students who have now completed the two-year program. 
Commencement took place May 11, at the new District 1 Community Center. 
“This is our end-of-the-year celebration,” said Center Director Gina WhiteEagle.  “We always celebrate the last day of the school year.  Some of the children will be going into kindergarten next year, so we hold a graduation for them.” 
Graduates donned the customary caps and gowns before walking across the stage to receive their certificates, and shaking hands with all the instructors. 
The event would mark an end to pre-K, and beginning of elementary school for 13 young scholars. 
“They’re done with Head Start,” WhiteEagle said.  “Now, they’ll be going into kindergarten.  That’s what our end-of-the-year celebration is all about – getting families together, to celebrate their children’s achievements.” 
Also taking part in the ceremony were six first-year students who will be returning in September.  Each of them received a one-year certificate acknowledging his or her accomplishments. 
One returning student was four-year-old Kendrick Coon. 
“He’s an undergraduate,” said Coon’s placement father Devin Funmaker.  “He’ll be coming back next year for pre-K.  But in October, he’ll go back to his parents and I won’t have a child at Head Start anymore.” 
Funmaker said that the Head Start program has had a dramatic effect on his child’s development.  Prior to his enrollment at the school, he was dependent and withdrawn. 
However, everything changed over the course of his instruction. 
“The first day of school,” Funmaker said, “he didn’t want to go.  He just hung onto us and cried.  Now, things are a lot different.  He wants to go to school, and gets ready by himself.  He talks more, too, because he had a speech therapist come in and work with him all the time.” 
Other parents would share similar stories about their own child.  Like Funmaker, many attributed their kid’s progress to the education they received from Head Start and its teachers. 
For her part, the director thanked the Ho-Chunk Nation for helping fund the program. 
“I’m really glad we have this here,” WhiteEagle said.  “It makes a huge difference, and you can see it in the difference between one of our first-year students and a kindergartener who graduated from the program.  That’s why I think it is so important.” 
Kendrick’s father agreed. 
“Whatever they do there,” Funmaker said, “they need to keep doing it – because they’re doing a really good job.” 
WhiteEagle said the next school year would begin Sept. 4, and that any parent interested in enrolling one of their kids at the Sandpillow Head Start should contact a school administrator.