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Nebraska Winnebago Educare promotes children's well being

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(Nebraska News Connection) Nearly 60 percent of Nebraska three- and four-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool programs, which are associated with increased success in school and beyond.

But for at least a decade, most preschoolers on Nebraska's Winnebago Reservation have been part of the national Educare Learning Network.

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Amy LaPointe-Houghton, education director for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, said the Educare program was once described to her as "Head Start on steroids." She noted in their years with the Educare system, Winnebago children have gone from testing near the bottom to being "right in line" with children in the 24 other Educare centers across the country.

"We've made that huge leap and it's all around the data," LaPointe-Houghton explained. "We have our data compiled in a book every year, and things that are identified in that book, that's something we make improvements on."

She noted evaluators from the University of Nebraska Medical Center assess the children at the beginning and end of each school year. Educare Winnebago is the only Educare program in the country on an Indian reservation.

LaPointe-Houghton attributed their success to Educare's four pillars: data utilization, professional development, high-quality teaching and intensive family engagement. She pointed out one focus of their program is a social-emotional curriculum, teaching skills like identifying and expressing emotions in acceptable ways.

"To be able to better handle situations when they're encountering some kind of traumatic event, or a stressful event," LaPointe-Houghton added. "They have some tools to be able to help themselves."

LaPointe-Houghton emphasized research about the negative effects of stress and trauma on physical health makes them hopeful if their children learn how to manage stress, they will have better overall health, as well as more success in school.

"We have high numbers of diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease," LaPointe-Houghton observed. "It makes me think it could be contributed because of all the traumatic things that happen in people's lives and you don't even realize that it's doing damage to your body."

To enroll in Educare Winnebago, children must live in Winnebago but do not have to be tribal members. The program has eligibility requirements to ensure they're serving the children with the highest needs.