6 Component Areas
Aboriginal Head Start instills in children a positive sense of identity through culture and language curriculum related to their First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures. A connection to their ancestry, through traditional activities and languages, provides children (as well as parents, staff and Elders) with a positive sense of themselves, their families, and their communities.
The AHS preschool program provides a solid preparation for young children entering the school system. The first day of kindergarten can be stressful for both children and parents, and it is necessary for everyone to be prepared for this next step. Aboriginal Head Start staff are trained in helping families with this transition, and regularly go out of their way to facilitate early meetings and visits with kindergarten teachers in their classrooms. This preparation makes a difference for not only the students, but also their parents.
Aboriginal Head Start programs strive to empower all those involved with AHS to increase control over and improve their health and well being. In many centres, a variety of medical practitioners volunteer to visit in order to familiarize the children with health care. Some programs offer speech therapy, counselling and physiotherapy for special needs children.
The Aboriginal Head Start program ensures that children are provided with nourishing food on-site, helping meet their nutritional needs and fostering their ability to learn and develop. All programs offer snack time, while some provide breakfast and lunch, as well as celebrations and feasts for the families. Many centres feature traditional foods as part of the cultural experience.Stephen Bujnowicz, Program Consultant with the PHAC, BC Region, explained that each AHS centre addresses the component areas differently, and that some sites have Aboriginal nutritionists and dieticians that visit and provide expertise and information.
Aboriginal Head Start programs provide the structure for a new ‘village’ for Aboriginal families in urban areas. The centres become a place where families can network and develop meaningful relationships. AHS parents remark on how staff are very helpful and generous towards the families, as well as being a kindly source of information on resources and community services available to impact their quality of life. Friendships among staff, parents, Elders and students take root in this AHS community. The centre provides a home for those who are far from their families or are newcomers to the city. These friendships often last a lifetime.
It is well understood among Head Start staff and coordinators that the success of the program, and more importantly, the success of children’s education, very much depends on involvement and participation of the parents. Parents are encouraged by Aboriginal Head Start staff to take a proactive role in their children’s current and future education. As their child’s primary teachers, parents are empowered to bring forth gifts and further develop as role models for their children and in their communities.