Dr. Linda DeRiviere
Public Policy and Public Administration
Department of Political Science
University of Winnipeg
Little Red Spirit, Aboriginal Head Start is a community-based early childhood education program for Indigenous children between the ages of 3 and 6. Programming is based on six key components: culture and language, education, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parental involvement. In addition to interviews with parents, teachers and program staff, the evaluation methodology includes an experimental design that assesses the academic outcomes (math, reading, writing, and school attendance) of former Little Red Spirit students currently attending Grades 1-6 at Dufferin School in Winnipeg. The findings of this evaluation reveal that former Little Red Spirit students exhibited higher attendance levels and more favourable teacher-rated math, reading, and writing assessments compared to a grade-matched group of peers who had not attended the program. Furthermore, current Little Red Spirit participants also demonstrated a high degree of positive change with regard to their academic and social development skills since joining the program.
For 20 years now, Little Red Spirit Aboriginal Head Start has offered an early childhood education program for Indigenous children between the ages of 3 and 6 in the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre (hereinafter referred to as Little Red Spirit-Broadway). Each year, the program serves about 35-40 Indigenous families living in the immediate West Broadway area and other surrounding neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. Similarly, Little Red Spirit is also offered to another 20 children at its satellite location in Dufferin School in the inner-city Centennial neighbourhood (hereinafter referred to as Little Red Spirit-Dufferin). These are high-poverty areas that have relatively high levels of inadequate housing, unemployment, crime and gang activity, among other social inequities. Not only must Indigenous youth contend with the enormous economic disadvantages associated with poverty, they also experience higher school dropout and pushout rates than children and youth from more affluent neighbourhoods. Little Red Spirit is based on six key program components that are central to mitigating some of these disadvantages: culture and language, education, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parental involvement. Thus, this program is able to address the unique circumstances of families in these neighbourhoods because it recognizes that children’s schooling and learning challenges cannot be addressed in isolation.
The program is primarily funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and runs from September to June each year. Each day is structured into two parts: a morning program running from 9-11:30 which integrates the Ojibway language and an afternoon program from 1-3:30 which integrates the Cree language (Ojibway in the morning and afternoon at Dufferin). There are no fees to attend, and transportation (i.e. pick up and drop off) is provided within limited geographic boundaries.
This evaluation was conducted through the use of qualitative and quantitative methods and used an experimental design to address some intermediate-term impacts on student outcomes. This was made possible through being granted access to data on the academic achievements of former students (experimental group), and comparing their outcomes to a group of their peers (control group) at Dufferin School in Winnipeg’s inner city. The results strongly indicated that Little Red Spirit is an invaluable program that helps prepare children for school and assists parents in playing an active role in their child’s growth and development.
The evaluation findings revealed that former Little Red Spirit students had higher rates of attendance and more favourable teacher-rated math, reading, and writing assessments compared to the control group. The students were also rated favourably by their teachers on confidence in learning, social skills, and 78% of former Little Red Spirit students also had a parent or guardian who was usually or almost always supportive and involved in their child’s education. Furthermore, current Little Red Spirit participants were also rated as showing a high level of positive change with regard to their academic and social development skills since joining the program.