Southern Ute Head Start back on track

Southern Ute Head Start student, John Scott smiles in his new class setting, Friday, Dec. 1; temporary classrooms are now located at the Southern Ute Cultural Center. Head Start students were relocated to the Cultural Center, prompted by potential health concerns, recently identified in the former Head Start building.
Maria Rivera | The Southern Ute Drum

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has given The Southern Ute Community Actions Program (SUCAP), a one year lease for the Head Start to use administrative offices, classrooms and kitchen facilities at the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. This temporary solution is intended to give SUCAP enough time to establish a permanent facility for the Head Start program within the community by next year.

“The Tribe has been so gracias and accommodating,” SUCAP Executive Director, Eileen Wasserbach said. “We were asked to move out of the old building for safety reasons, and the Tribe has not made a decision about what to do with the building.”

This has been an unexpected opportunity to share a cultural space.

“To me the kids really fit here,” Head Start Director Char Schank said in reference to the large, colorful classrooms located on the south side of the Cultural Center. “Our long-term goal would be to partner with the Cultural Department and have a full emersion classroom for kids [going forward].”

Missing a total of eight school days, the Head Start closed on Oct 10, and reopened the modular classrooms on campus by Oct 23 — with all programs opening in the Cultural Center classrooms on Nov 6. “We need to give kudos to Linda Baker and Edward Box III for being very accommodating in making the space work, and the good communication,” Schank said. Baker and Box, respectively, head the Museum and Cultural Center for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

“There were some upset families in the community, we reopened as quickly as we could,” Schank said. “Every staff member here worked hard to get us moved [in short notice], and the staff from Southern Ute Building and Grounds Maintenance helped with trucks, trailers, and extra hands.”

SUCAP has operated the Southern Ute Head Start for 50 years, the Tribe is a grantee from the Federal Government for the school, therefore Head Start is technically a Southern Ute Program which serves both tribal members and the community of Ignacio.

The building occupied by the SUCAP Head Start program was built in the late 1930’s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and buildings from this era sometimes contain hazardous materials — as stated in a recent press release from the Southern Ute Executive Office; the Tribe contracted with an environmental consultant to conduct an assessment of the Head Start building. The Tribe received a final report identifying the presence of asbestos in the crawlspace of the Head Start building. To eliminate any potential risk for asbestos exposure and completely ensure the safety of the building occupants, the Tribe determined that it was in the best interest of the occupants to immediately shut down the Head Start building.

“That building has a lot of history,” Wasserbach said.

Currently SUCAP is working to secure a location and fundraise for a new school, whether that be new construction, or on site modular buildings for classrooms and administration.

“Finding the property has been a huge hurdle,” Wasserbach said. “We asked the school board about a [vacant] lot and talks were very supportive.”

When a piece of land near the Pine River Education Center came to the attention of SUCAP, they realized it fit some important criteria — great access to town and basic utilities.

Ignacio School District Superintendent Dr. Rocco Fuschetto has been very supportive.

There will be some drawbacks to relocating away from the Southern Ute Tribal Campus explained Char Schank. “The loss of SunUte, the kids can walk to ‘tumbling tots’ and Halloween events on campus,” she said. Partnerships with SUIMA and the Sky Ute Casino enable teachers to brings kids over for events and presentations; those extracurricular activities could prove challenging from a new location further into town.

“We do have a request for proposal to find someone to manage this project,” Wasserbach said. The project manager will be hired on to decide best options in regards to functionality and cost.

If people would like to donate to the Head Start program and the establishment of a new facility for the school they can contact SUCAP directly, or go through Southwest Colorado Gives.

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