The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians is opening a new Tribal Community Center in Myrtle Creek in June and a new preschool in September.

Tribe Education Director Tammie Hunt has been looking for a location for a preschool and bigger community center for almost four years. Construction began in the spring of 2018.

The preschool will be called Yimìsa — meaning he or she dreams in Takelma, the tribe’s language — which Hunt thought was appropriate because she wants kids to dream and achieve high school graduation. In Oregon, Native Americans and Alaska Native students had the lowest graduation rate by race at 65 percent in the 2017-2018 school year according to the Oregon Department of Education.

“There’s a huge gap in their success rate in school,” Hunt said. “There’s evidence that shows if you can get any student involved in a preschool situation and start that learning love there, they are going to be much more successful. By the third grade, when that benchmark comes, they will be able to meet that and that just raises the graduation rate.”

Preschool Promise was created from a bill by the Oregon Legislature in 2015 to provide high quality, publicly funded early childhood education for children living at 200 percent of the poverty level, according to the Oregon Department of Education Early Learning Division.

“I was very excited to start (a preschool) from scratch,” the school lead teacher Sherri Hu said. “It has been awesome and brought a lot of new things to learn. There are lots of different policies and guidelines. I know that we will be more than well prepared when we are opening to jump right into it.”

Preschool Promise programs can offer services to students for two years. Hu said the local preschools are all full and only able to serve students for one year. Hu said she is excited to meet her new family of students and help them develop a love of learning.

“This is a great opportunity to offer a free quality preschool to a lower income base but still higher than what some of the cutoffs were before,” Hu said. “I hope that we will be full. I really hope to make this a good experience for all these kids. This is going to be most of their first times to be in a school setting.”

The school will be housed in the new Tribal Community Center, which will allow for growth for the existing Expanding Horizons Youth Center after school program and the community programs for elders.

“We’re busting at the seams and we realized we needed to find a different place for those kids,” Hunt said. “The tribe supports education because if you don’t educate your tribal membership, then the tribe isn’t going to be self-sufficient. We can bring in culturally appropriate curriculum. If you don’t see relevancy to your life, you’re not going to buy into it. It’s culturally appropriate so there’s that want to go there and there’s relevancy in their life.”

There were approximately 644,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students in the US K-12 system in 2008, representing 1.2 percent of public school students nationally. Native American and Alaska Natives had the highest dropout rate in public high schools in the 2009-2010 school year on the national and state level, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“The thing we are really excited about is the multigenerational center,” Hunt said. “We will have cradle to grave all under one roof. Within a tribe, it was always cradle to grave where the elders taught the littles, the families taught each other. We can bring back those stories from the elders and they can tell our littles about the ways and the stories and be able to carry that on, it sets this goal of mentorship throughout all of the generations.”

The school application is open for all students who are 3 or 4 years old on Sept. 1, live in Douglas County and are within 200 percent of the poverty line. It will hold up to 18 students and priority with be given to members of the tribe. Transportation will not be provided, but students from anywhere in Douglas County may apply. The after school program will grow from capacity of 19 students to up to 27 students.

Janelle Polcyn can be reached at jpolcyn@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Business reporter

Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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