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Keweenaw Bay family literacy program helps youngsters get ‘even start’ in life

KBIC ‘Even Start’ initiative addresses issue

September 22, 2010
By ZACH KUKKONEN Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

BARAGA - For low-income and "at-risk" parents with young children, education often gets put on the backburner in favor of providing and caring for their children.

Yet the KBIC Even Start Family Literacy Center in Baraga aims to help change that for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as well as Baraga County as a whole, providing a free service for those who want it.

"It's a family literacy program: It addresses the needs of our low-income families on the reservation and in the county in general," Gail Juntunen, program coordinator with the literacy center, said. "We offer adult education and GED preparation or job skills preparation along with early childhood education.

"We combine it so that children and adults can learn together."

The center believes that parents are a young child's first and most important teacher, and hopes to help parents get past some of their worries about continuing education.

"A lot of adults come hesitantly back into education to complete GEDs," Juntunen said. "They have a lot of anxiety or concerns over their past inability to succeed in education.

"What we try to do is find an authentic way to present learning opportunities that would involve literacy and especially get them connected with their own children in projects."

The education for the parents also indirectly helps children in their early education.

"It reassures children that education is important," Juntunen said. "When mom and dad are involved, it shows that learning is fun and can be a family activity."

With that idea in mind, the literacy center began a pilot project this month, "The Dream Catcher Chronicles." The project involves getting adults and children to collect and document the stories and histories passed on through the oral tradition of Ojibwa elders and relatives. Working with the Tribal Preservation Office, Juntunen believes this project will help children, parents and the tribe alike.

"This is something the tribe itself has been hoping to achieve," she said. "(The Tribal Preservation Office) was happy to see that we could provide manpower for continuing on the oral history needs of the community.

"It's one of those types of projects, the longer that you wait, the more that you might miss."

In addition to educating parents and children, the project closely connects them to their tribal roots.

"We know locally we have a lot of information that's available from the elders in the Ojibwa community," Juntunen said. "We're trying to connect our young families back into the community, and what better way then to go back to their relatives ... and talk about the past and record some of it.

"Children are developing their reading, writing and listening skills to complete their education, and they're connecting in with a very personal past within a very unique culture."

The literacy center received a grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy that will certainly help push the project along.

"We will be receiving, in total, about $60,000 that we can use to make sure this project will work, fund equipment and resources and make it a fun type of project," Juntunen said.

For more information on program services or "The Dream Catcher Chronicles," call the center at 353-8161.



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