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Sep 22, 2015 2:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shinnecock Preschool Makes Strides In First Few Months

Children at the Wuneechanunk on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation play together and learn about native culture. ALISHA STEINDECKER
Sep 28, 2015 10:22 AM

Just a few months after the opening of the first preschool on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, students have already participated in a variety of cultural activities—dancing at the annual powwow, making moccasins and planting beans, among them.At the preschool, children from 18 to 36 months old get a head start on learning about Shinnecock culture, including the native language, to ensure that it will be preserved for years to come,

“We focus on cultural teachings: respect for each other and respect for Mother Earth,” said preschool manager Tohanash Tarrant. “They are really engaged in being here and being amongst their cousins and relatives and learning their language.”

The Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool—Wuneechanunk translates to “Our Children of the Stony Shores” in English—is a certified not-for-profit organization that opened its doors on June 8 with the help of several grants, including $600,000 from the Indian Community Development Block Grant program. The brand-new facility, which is recognized as being environmentally “green,” has one infant room and two toddler rooms.

Only one classroom is in use right now because of the lack of funds to pay the salaries of teachers who would work in the other two rooms. In total, there are six teachers, including two who work full-time, and nine children who are currently enrolled.

Tribal Trustee Bryan Polite explained that the Wuneechanunk Preschool has been a vision for the Shinnecock people for decades. “This has been something that the community has been invested in and has been trying to bring to fruition,” he said.

The preschool helps working parents who cannot afford to send their children there via a subsidy provided by the Childcare Development Fund, which allows some parents to send their kids for as little as $15 a week. “Parents seeking jobs, parents going to school to do job training, those are all eligibility requirements for funding,” Ms. Tarrant said. “We really help them out.” Ms. Tarrant explained that these parents are expected to reciprocate by volunteering in different activities for the children in their spare time.

“As our program grows, more people want to join because there is a growing need,” Ms. Tarrant said. She would not say how much the preschool costs for families without the help of subsidies, but said it is comparable to the “market rate” in Southampton.

Ms. Tarrant explained that she is trying to encourage college-aged children from the reservation to study early childhood development so they can come back and teach at Wuneechanunk.

“I hope to offer resources to individuals looking to get into early childhood development, but there’s a real need for us to be able to employ our own Shinnecock people here,” Ms. Tarrant said. “That really gives them a chance to be who they are and where they come from all day and to teach the children who are here their own culture, and it creates such a strengthening of identity.”

Mr. Polite explained that conventional education combined with an education in Shinnecock culture for the infants and toddlers is what is so invaluable because at preschool “they start developing their minds and going out to the outside world.” He added that some children already speak some native words at home that they have learned in school, perhaps even teaching their own families.

Not only that, but the Wuneechanunk preschool is also open to non-native children so they, too, can learn about the Shinnecock culture.

“We wanted to connect to our local community, have our children feel safe and comfortable and really aware of who they are, and by inviting non-tribal members—giving priority to natives of course—that would also create another dialogue that just didn’t exist in our upbringing,” Ms. Tarrant said.

“It goes back to not only teaching our own kids about the Shinnecock and our tradition but providing education to the outside community, as well,” Mr. Polite said.

The preschool is still in need of childcare necessities, such as diapers, and those who run it hope that with additional funding it will be able to provide lunches for the children. Options for making a donation can be found at amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist under “Shinnecock Preschool.”

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seven students and seven teachers?

And shouldn't the school focus on learning - language skills and math so the children can be prepared for first grade? Nice about mother earth and all that but learning skills would be paramount.

Is this a mistake in the article?

By JohnSmith (25), Johnson City, Tennessee on Sep 23, 15 9:48 AM
My daughter attends the school and it's wonderful. Yes of course the children learn language and math skills. It is like every preschool except there is the additional focus of learning about their culture and language.They start every morning singing their aquay song, or hello song, on the hand drum. Some of the children marched in the 4th of July parade and handed out bracelets with the school's name and the saying "Keep Cal and Dance On" to children along the parade route. Many people worked ...more
By LMVT (56), Shinnecock Indian Reservation on Sep 24, 15 12:35 PM
I found the wishlist by searching the amazon wishlist under Friends & Family Giving. This is a great idea!

"It goes back to not only teaching our own kids about the Shinnecock and our tradition but providing education to the outside community, as well” . Bryan Polite's comment says it all. I value the heritage and contributions of the Shinnecock, and, as a former preschool teacher myself, see the school as an invaluable resource in shaping the future of our community. Bravo to all ...more
By Earthgirl (52), Southampton on Sep 24, 15 5:48 PM
This is a great opportunity for the youth. I hope the school will continue to thrive for years to come.
By Water Mill Navy (4), Soutahmpton on Sep 24, 15 8:15 PM