The Aboriginal Head Start Program at the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre is one of three programs across the province to receive a 2022 Minister’s Award of Excellence in the Child Development category. The program focuses on education, culture, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parent/family involvement for children three to five years old.
Program Coordinator Joleen Bateman says she and her colleagues are honoured to receive provincial recognition for their work.
“For someone that takes time out of their day to write an essay is very humbling. To win the award is quite humbling as well. It’s a testament to the work we do, which we’re very proud of. I have a phenomenal team of ladies that come to work every day. It feels good for all of us to see,” she says.
Bateman has worked in childcare for quite some time, but she says she was presented with the opportunity to work with the Friendship Centre about seven years ago.
“The previous coordinator asked if I would consider taking her spot. At that time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in the field. I thought this presented a unique opportunity and it’s the best decision I made. I love what we do every day,” she says.
The program takes in about 50 children and families every year.
“We are getting back to normal levels now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we had fewer people registered because we simply couldn’t offer as many activities in person. We are already full for next year, with a waitlist,” she says.
The movement of the program itself has been around for what is soon to be 27 years and specifically the last seven years, Bateman has noticed growth.
“We have also changed our programming as it’s now based on the seven sacred teachings and the medicine wheel. We’re always trying to come up with new ideas to improve the program,” she says.
The program also receives federal funding, providing more flexibility in terms of what it can offer to children and families.
“For example, this year we were able to take the children on a 10-week PARDS program. We’re also lucky to have great connections with the Grande Prairie community as well,” she adds.
The other programs that received a Minister’s Award of Excellence in the Child Development category are Jack James Preschool in Calgary and Leapah’s Learning Garden Preschool in Edmonton.