TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – The Cherokee Nation has begun construction on a new state-of-the-art Head Start facility.

Officials say Leaders of the Cherokee Nation met on Tuesday to break ground on the new 75,000-square-foot facility in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Cherokee Nation leaders breaking ground on new Head Start facility.
Cherokee Nation leaders meet Tuesday, Oct. 17, to break ground on a new state-of-the-art Head Start facility in Tahlequah. Image courtesy the Cherokee Nation.

“Today we are breaking ground on a building that is much needed and is going to serve the Cherokee Nation well. The men and women who work in our Head Start facilities, and their leader, Verna Thompson, have been providing first-class education and educational leadership in our Head Start program for years,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

According to the Cherokee Nation, the new facility is part of the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act, which was signed into law in 2021 by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. The Act allocates at least $4 million to the replacement or rehabilitation of Cherokee Nation Head Start facilities across the reservation.

“It is our responsibility to construct Head Start buildings worthy of the people working in them, and worthy of the little kids who attend these facilities for their education. Investing in the education of our children has always been the Cherokee way, so Deputy Chief Warner and I will soon be going back to the Council of the Cherokee Nation and asking that they help us provide even more funding toward this cause of providing state-of-the-art Head Start facilities around the tribe’s reservation.” added Chief Hoskin.

The two-story site was developed to replace the original Head Start center on property nearby, some of which was damaged by a recent fire. The new center is slated to have 17 classrooms and four motor-skills rooms, two of which will also be storm shelters. The design also includes staff offices, nurse’s rooms, conference rooms and a training room, officials say.

Rendering of new Head Start facility in Tahlequah.
October 2023 rendering of new Tahlequah Early Childhood Center. Image courtesy Cherokee Nation.

“It’s important to invest in early education for our Cherokee children because that’s how we invest in the future of our great Nation. The Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act provides young Cherokees with state-of-the-art facilities so that they can have a state-of-the-art education,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said.

According to the tribe, more than 900 children are served through the its Head Start programs, which began in 1978. Students are taught cognitive, language, motor and social skills through the programs. Across the country, more than one million children receive services from federal Head Start programs every year.

“As a child of a single mother with four kids in the home, I can attest to the fact that it is a blessing and gift to go to a place for early childhood education,” District 2 Councilor Candessa Tehee said.

Aside from the new facility in Tahlequah, work has also started on new Head Start centers in Nowata, Pryor, and in Kenwood as part of the Cherokee Nation Woody Hair Community Center project. The tribe is also planning to develop more facilities in Jay, Cherry Tree and Salina.

“We know that our Creator has given each and every one of us a purpose, and that includes our children. So, let’s be mindful and let’s be prayerful for every single person that has played a hand in raising up these children by providing them with the educational resources and opportunities that they need and deserve. It’s the spirit of gadugi, the Cherokee belief in the power of working together, that continues to lay the foundation for future generations of Cherokees to thrive.” Deputy Chief Warner added.

The facility is estimated to be finished by 2025.