PSU announces Tribes Scholars program to benefit early childhood students

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun
Tribal representatives including, from left, Tracy Beckwith of the Miami Tribe, Carol Essex of the Ottawa Tribe, and Diana Baker of the Shawnee Tribe were among those in attendance at Wednesday's announcement of the Tribes Scholars program launch.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Representatives from Pittsburg State University and from three Oklahoma tribes — Miami, Ottawa, and Shawnee — gathered at PSU’s Little Gorillas Preschool on Wednesday to announce the launch of a new early childhood education scholarship program.

“This is an incredible, life-changing opportunity for our students,” said Amber Tankserley, who coordinates PSU’s early childhood programming. “This scholarship is going to allow our students to pursue their dream of becoming an early childhood professional and hopefully make differences in the lives of children.”

The goal of the Tribes Scholars program is to award a total of $600,000 in scholarships for the 2021-22 school year and do the same again in 2022-23. Full scholarships of $7- to $10,000 per student per semester will be available to qualifying students.

To qualify, students must be majoring in either Child Development or Early Childhood Unified Birth through Kindergarten, have completed 45 credit hours, reside in one of 41 eligible counties, maintain a 2.5 grade point average, and maintain full-time status of at least 6 credit hours per semester to be considered for partial assistance. Applicants do not need to be Native American to apply for a scholarship.

Applications for the first round of consideration will be accepted until June 7 and students should be notified of whether they have been awarded a scholarship by the end of June.

Carol Essex, Child Care and Development Fund director with the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma, discussed the renewed focus on the importance of childcare over the past year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of the sudden childcare became at the forefront of care during the pandemic. That has to move forward, and we want to make sure that in the years to come, we have childcare providers out there ready to take care of children,” Essex said.

“We receive a tribal childcare grant. That grant is to pay subsidy for low- to middle-income Native American families, but with the influx of all the stimulus funds, it’s added to the purpose of our grant, and so now we’re able to look at both sides,” she said.

“We still, our main focus is to provide subsidy for Native American families in the four state area, in 41 counties, but we also now need to look at the provider side, and that’s what this scholarship is going to do. We want a highly qualified, enthusiastic staff out there working with these little ones, and through the pandemic we found that we’ve lost a lot of staff.”

Tracy Beckwith, childcare services manager with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, noted that the combination of health concerns and incentives to stay on unemployment that came with the pandemic led to a shortage of qualified people to work at the tribe’s Leonard Learning Center, which has a capacity to serve 90 children at a time, ranging in age from infants to pre-teens.

“We understand the importance of having high-quality teachers in our center, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Beckwith said. “Ultimately that’s the whole goal of this, that out of this scholarship we see more home daycares in our communities, more workforce within our tribal daycares, because it’s not just Leonard Learning Center, our tribal daycare, we’re seeing a lot of people struggling.”

Chief Ethel Cook of the Ottawa Tribe and Roy Baldridge, second chief of the Shawnee Tribe, also discussed the impact the Tribes Scholars program is anticipated to have.

“I just think it’s going to be monumental for daycares and for the future of raising our kids, and protecting them, and having a safe place to go, and parents not having to worry about them,” Cook said. “I think it’s going to be monumental.”

Baldridge said the tribe’s primary function, along with caring for its elders, is to prepare its children and grandchildren for the future.

“Our tribe’s expanding, and it’s really hard to locate people to fill those positions, whether it’s in childcare or any of the other functions, and this sort of helps that for us,” he said.

Ultimately, however, it is hoped that the Tribes Scholars program will benefit the four state area overall, beyond just the three tribes that are making it possible.

“We think it’s not only going to be a tremendous impact for our Native American communities, but for everyone,” Essex said, “because when you have a new childcare center or home open, it benefits all children, Native American and everyone else in the community, and we are thrilled with that.”