JAY, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. on Tuesday signed into law the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act during a visit to the tribe’s Head Start facility in Jay. Chief Hoskin signed the legislation after announcing the law in September and receiving Council approval earlier this month.
The Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act will invest up to $40 million to replace eight existing Cherokee Nation Head Start centers with new facilities and upgrade others within the Cherokee Nation Reservation. It also calls for a comprehensive review of all early childhood education services for Cherokee citizens.
“Cherokees have long known that the first years of any child's life should be spent in a nurturing and enriching environment to help build the best possible foundation for their lives,” Chief Hoskin said. “Our collective future is being written today by the investments we are making in our youngest children. That's why I am excited to sign the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act. This is an historic step in Cherokee Nation's aggressive plan to help our youngest learners and their caregivers. The legislation is named in honor of Head Start Director Verna Thompson, who has worked for Cherokee Nation and in early childhood education for 37 years. Her dedication to early childhood education is unparalleled. With this legislation officially signed into law, we will begin the work of modernizing the tribe’s facilities for current students and for the thousands of Cherokee youth who will one day follow them.”
The Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act will modernize facilities for thousands of children - predominantly Cherokee and often from low-income homes - as young as six weeks to pre-school age who are learning vital cognitive, language, motor and social skills. Cherokee Nation serves students at its main campus in Tahlequah and in 65 other classrooms across the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
The Cherokee Nation serves nearly 900 children across the reservation through its Head Start program.
“Cherokee Nation Head Start programs throughout our reservation have been such a blessing to so many Cherokee families, but we recognize the aging facilities are in need of repair or replacement and we are committed to making those changes,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “Another key component of this legislation will allow us to conduct a comprehensive review of all early childhood education services available for Cherokee citizens so we can address any problems that might exist. With these investments, our youngest Cherokees will have the tools they need to continue thriving.”
Cherokee Nation Head Start Centers planned for construction are Tahlequah, Nowata, Kenwood, Jay, Cherry Tree, Redbird, Salina and Pryor.
“Since the announcement, we’re all excited to see our dream of new facilities come to fruition,” Thompson said. “The new facilities will absolutely inspire us to evaluate our whole approach in best practices and will surely complement the curriculum, service delivery and overall enthusiasm. What a blessing for our current children enrolled and to those not yet born!”
Funding for the facility upgrades and new Head Start replacements will come from federal funding and limited general funds for planning.
District 1 Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan, of Hulbert, was lead sponsor of the legislation and praised the measure as a great investment.
“I believe this is money well spent, and I was proud that Chief Hoskin signed the legislation passed by Council to provide funding for the new Head Start units across the reservation,” Councilor Jordan said. “I'm also pleased with the naming of the act. Verna Thompson has dedicated herself to raising generations of young Cherokees with compassion and love.”