Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd, by Jim Fergus
(NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998)

A birthday gift from my sister-in-law and her husband, this book somehow got buried in my TBR pile.  I recently uncovered it and read it.  Wow!  This novel takes you on a wild ride into the North American West of 1875.

The Cheyenne are trying to find a way to assimilate into the white man’s culture.  The chief Little Wolf travels to Washington, DC to make an unusual request.  He asks the government to provide the Cheyenne with 1,000 white women who are willing to marry Cheyenne men, have their babies, and thus produce a generation who can bridge the culture gap.  Cheyenne culture is a matrilineal society.  All children belong to their mother’s tribe.  Thus, the “mixed” children resulting from these unions would be members of the dominant white society and could help their elders live together in peace.

The book’s premise is based on a real request, made in 1854 at a Fort Laramie peace conference, by a Cheyenne chief who thought it would be a perfect way to merge the cultures.  In real life the request for white women wasn’t positively received, but in this novel author Jim Fergus examines the question, what if this exchange had occurred? 

Fergus convincingly describes May Dodd and the other women who volunteer for this government assignment using Dodd’s letters and journals as his literary vehicle.  Life on the plains, living as one of the spouses of Chief Little Wolf, unfolds vividly through the eyes and experiences of May Dodd.

A beautifully written book, One Thousand White Women was a regional book award winner of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association.  It is historical fiction at its best.  The Western expansion left a trail of death, destruction, and broken treaties.  This novel captures this unfortunate reality all too well.

Several days after reading this book, Ricky and I attended a house concert in Shreveport to hear the band 2-Bit Palomino, featuring husband-wife team, Ren and Andi Renfree and their fellow performer, Bill Ward.  This concert series in our neighborhood features singer/songwriters in an intimate listening setting. 
Photo from Shreveport House Concert series Facebook page
Female vocalist Andi Renfree who sings lead, back-up and plays percussion and harmonica in the band co-wrote a song, The Buffalo Grass, which perfectly fit with the feelings I was experiencing after reading One Thousand White Women.  The lyrics of the song are provided if you want to listen to 2-Bit Palomino’s Bill Ward sing it, or rodeo cowboy/singer Chris LeDoux also recorded it shortly before his death.

"The Buffalo Grass"

It’s been forty-five days since the snows have begun
I stare at the fire and long for the sun
As the bitter winds blow through the mouth of the pass
I sit here and dream of the Buffalo grass

The ponies are shaggy; their coats have grown long
With heads down, they huddle together as one
At the window my breath forms a mist on the glass
As I patiently wait for the Buffalo grass

The Seasons still turn
And the prairies still yearn
For those who were here long ago
The Sioux have all gone and the Bison moved on
Soon, I will follow them home

Mollie passed in September and left me alone
Now my heart is as heavy and round as a stone
Too many years have gone by too fast
And I long for the feel of the Buffalo grass

The animals sleep while the world holds its breath
The woods are as still and as silent as death
When the mountain streams flow, spring will follow at last
And the wind will blow free through the Buffalo grass

The Seasons still turn
And the prairies still yearn
For those who were here long ago
The Sioux have all gone and the Bison moved on
Soon, I will follow them home

The geese will return as a symbol of change
The elk will be foraging out on the range
Once again nature’s palette will color the pass
And I will find peace in the Buffalo grass
Yes, I will find peace in the Buffalo grass

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Head Start Community Assessment, or What I Did This Spring

This is what I consider a “cleansing post,” because it bridges the gap between when I last posted and now.  I have to write clean-the-desk post(s) before I can move on, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t read this long, somewhat academic post. 

This spring I signed a contract with my former employer, the agency that operates the Head Start program in Caddo Parish.   For a fee, I agreed to compile a community assessment for the program, a task that must be completed every five years.  I had done the last one and thought it would be a simple process of looking at the sources I used before, finding the updates, plugging new figures into the old document, and I’d be finished.  I was wrong, wrong, wrong!  The process turned out to be extremely time-consuming.  I’ve either been working on it or procrastinating working on it, thus, powerless to do anything else, for months. 

Desk during community assessment and my faithful dog companion

The stack on the right is the rapidly growing stack of parent surveys.
I decided that the agency needed to conduct a parent survey to determine whether the program is meeting the needs of the students and their families, as well as determining what challenges the families had faced during the last program year. 

I devised a survey that borrowed heavily from a document recommended by the national Head Start folks, but it was long—two pages of questions.  I foolishly didn’t use an app for the survey, nor did I use a bubble answer form that could be calculated by machine.  No, it was all to be done by hand—first the families’ responses, then hand-tabulated by me.  I figured this would be a pilot year, and only a few families would complete the survey, then the survey could be streamlined based on our experience and become a tool used annually by Head Start.

Over 500 families responded to the survey, almost exactly one-third of the families served—Head Start is funded to serve 1,564 preschool students annually. This unexpected response would keep me busy every night, hand-tallying the results.  Ninety-four per cent of those responding indicated that they were satisfied with the overall preschool program. Transportation services (or the lack thereof) had caused frustration for some families.  When asked about their feelings about the teachers and assistant teachers, 96% of those queried said they were satisfied.  Some folks indicated they were neutral to the two questions, but only one parent said they were dissatisfied. Other questions yielded similar results. 

The administration and I were pleased with the results.  Sometimes unhappy parents get more of our attention than the quiet, satisfied parents, and we don’t feel as successful as we actually are.

In addition to the parent survey, I researched and reviewed census data, Head Start and Early Head Start (HS/EHS) program information reports, statistics from state agencies, and assessments done by various groups that showed the strengths and needs of our community, primarily Caddo Parish.  I organized all the studies and statistics in a binder, behind tabs corresponding to the services provided by Head Start—education, health, nutrition, mental health, etc. and wrote a 35 page summary of my findings.

The Binder
Like many of the reports I consulted, I concluded that the problems of child poverty, generational poverty, and the negative population growth of Caddo Parish present big challenges for all Caddo citizens.  A high poverty rate and fewer people translate into an inadequate tax base to meet the community’s needs.  Other problems often accompany poverty, which I also addressed in my assessment, as well as listing some stressors experienced and reported by the Head Start families.

While it would be easy to be discouraged by the persistent issues facing our community, the voices of the parents of the Caddo Community Action Agency HS/EHS students lifted me up when they answered open ended questions about their experiences with CCAA Head Start.  I end with some of their words:

The staff was absolutely amazing, so friendly from the moment you walk through the doors. 

Communication and education friendly. Love & love & love

My daughter has become very outspoken and teaches her little brother what she learns at school.

I love the CCAA Head Start program.

I love the staff.

Great staff!  Keep up the great works. Love & miss you guys.

More than satisfied.

I love this preschool

Love her teacher’s patience

My child teachers rocked!  Pleased with the outcome, would recommend [them to anyone]!

I appreciate everything Head Start has done for my kids.  Thanks a bunch.

Love his teacher and the way she interacts with her students

Love the staff.  My son really enjoys going to school each morning.

All employees at the center are very friendly and welcoming.  Informative and helpful. Great job!

I saw a difference in my child as she began learning at school.  I was happy.

Thanks for all you do!

This has been such a wonderful program, it has been God sent!

I’m proud of my child’s progress at this center.

I am pleased with the growth academically I have seen in my child.

My daughter S—turned out better than I thought. Thank you for the wonderful help with her.

Doing a great job!

The Head Start is doing a great job with my children.  The teachers are great!

C—has learned a lot this school year.  She has two of the world’s best teachers.

This is a great school for my son.  He just wakes up and says he’s ready to go.

Mrs. M-- & Mrs. W—are the best teachers ever!

The staff is excellent with the kids.

Keep up the good work.

Good Job.

Thank you for a great year!!

I’m very pleased with K—‘s accomplishments.

Thank y’all for working with us this year.

Thanks for everything & teaching my child and preparing him for elementary [school].

For every lesson plan I was able to comment on things that I felt needed to be worked on.

The teachers really help with my twins social skills.

We go over what is going to be done [taught] each week.

I was able to express what help I thought my child needed.