The Osage Nation is continuing plans on improving education opportunities for Osage students by building a new larger Child Care building on the government campus in Pawhuska.
On May 8, tribal government officials, along with Wahzhahzhe Early Learning Academy students and staff attended a groundbreaking commemorating the building construction’s start. According to a news release, the new Child Care building “is planned to be 18,752 square feet, which includes eight classrooms, outdoor creative spaces, a kitchen, two indoor gross motor skills classrooms, a teacher training room, and office space for Wahzhazhe Early Learning Academy administration and Pawhuska Wahzhazhe Early Learning Academy Staff.”
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear acknowledged the WELA and education staff as they tended to the younger event attendees. “You have the most important job in the Nation, I think, in taking such influence over the hearts and minds of these children… You’re making them the adults of tomorrow and that’s so strong, that’s so powerful.
Standing Bear also acknowledged other education officials and Congress, which considered and approved several appropriation bills, including a $2.8 million supplemental appropriation bill during the 2022 Tzi-Sho Session for the Child Care building project. “It’s important to them, it’s important to us and we all made it happen. We found the money and now we’re all going to be watching as this goes up and then it will make some more room that we need,” he said.
Last September, Congress passed ONCA 22-82 (sponsored by Congressman Scott BigHorse), which is “An Act to authorize and appropriate the amount of $2,811,473 to the Pawhuska WELA of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the continuation and completion of a new facility project.” During the session, BigHorse said the new building will move the classroom environment into updated modern facilities, as well as eliminate the WELA waiting list for prospective students.
BigHorse also acknowledged the WELA staff, noting “my heart goes out to you because I’ve stood in your shoes and I’ve worked with children and I know what a trying time it can be, but you’ve got them at that stage where you’re making a huge impact because we’re taking (Osage children) out of our public schools and putting them – thanks to our past Congresses’ dedication to education – we’ve been able to make it this far and it’s my understanding we were just accredited with the seventh grade, so we’ll soon be starting seventh grade up here (in Daposka Ahnkodapi).”
“This is a milestone, this is something that’s been in my mind all of my life, why can’t we educate our own people? Why can’t we bring our elements in and get our school and us run it the way we want to, not the way a school board wants to or some other parent that doesn’t care about us,” BigHorse said. “Congress was really involved in this (funding bill consideration) … we passed a total of five pieces of legislation for a total of $7.9 million for this endeavor.”
Jennifer Holding, the Nation’s director of Child Care and Development, is serving her first year in the post and said the project is a “multi-department collaboration” including the two government branches, grants staff, Roads Department, Historic Preservation, Information Technology, and language and culture departments.
Referring to WELA staff and teachers, Holding said “I know they’re going to love this new building and they’ve definitely paid their time in the old building and this will be awesome for them… We know it’s going to be a beautiful building with absolutely everything that the children and the teachers need. There’s going to be separate classrooms for each age group with outdoor classrooms attached to those classrooms, there’s going to be two gross motor skills rooms for different age groups, a huge kitchen, resource room and a break room for the teachers, a room for nursing mothers that can come nurse their babies during the day, office space and a training room for teachers so they can have their trainings on-site and there’s going to be a giant playground … We anxiously await to see the finished facility for the 2024 school year.”
Casey Johnson, Secretary of Development, said the Child Care building project is “the first big project since the reorganization of the Nation (with six cabinet secretaries) that spans different secretaries, so basically the Secretary of Social Services (Teresa Bledsoe) is over Child Care and Development where the (building) money came from and then it comes to Secretary of Development for building and construction and in the end, it’s going to be handed off to Secretary of Education (Vann Bighorse) where the WELA falls under.”
Tara McKinney, WELA Director, said she’s held the post for almost three years and “this is such an exciting time for the WELA program, I’ve been involved with this building project from the beginning and I’m so grateful for the collaboration efforts from each program within the Osage Nation, it was a joy working with each of you as well as Selser Schaefer (architect firm), we had a lot of meetings and a lot of things that go into planning a building.”
Johnson noted Builders Unlimited will be the contractor will be working on the construction and the Nation’s Roads and Tribal Development and Land Acquisition Department will also be involved as well. After the officials’ remarks, the education, government officials and WELA students participated in the ribbon-cutting and stood for photos to celebrate the project’s start.