CN Head Starts to get safe rooms
The Cherokee Nation’s Early Childhood Unit Tahlequah (Oklahoma) facility, also known as the Children’s Village, is one of seven ECU facilities to receive a safe room unit through an Indian Community Development Block grant provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The safe rooms will provide another layer of safety for children during tornado season. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to install safe room units at seven Early Childhood Unit Head Start campuses in the tribe’s jurisdiction.
The safe rooms will be add-ons to existing buildings and used during tornado season.
“We want to provide the utmost safety for our children because that’s that highest priority. Having the storm shelters is a dream come true because we’ve always wanted to add another layer of safety for our children because we are in tornado alley in Oklahoma,” ECU Director Verna Thompson said.
Construction is slated to begin in May and must be completed in 24 months for all seven sites: Children’s Village in Tahlequah, Cherry Tree facility in Stilwell, Redbird facility in Stilwell, Jay facility, Kenwood facility, Wauhillau facility in Nowata and Pryor facility.
Six of the units will be 233 square feet each, with the largest being 1,300 square feet at the Children’s Village. All units will be constructed to withstand an EF-5 tornado, which is the highest rating on the Fujita scale used to measure a tornado’s intensity.
The shelters will service approximately 536 people, including children ages 6 weeks to 4 years old, teachers, staff and parents.
“It includes parents that might have siblings with them as they are picking up or dropping off if there’s a threat of a tornado then they can join the existing folks in the facilities,” Thompson said.
She said the current safety measures are “basic” and include tornado drills and moving children to a room with no windows. “Just like most houses around here don’t have the availability of storm shelters, they would go to a room with no windows like a closet.”
She said the drills are required and would be continued once the safe rooms are installed.
ECU lead teacher B.J. Garcia said in teaching young children he has to be repetitive with practicing drills so if the time comes to get to safety they won’t be so apprehensive or scared.
“One of the things that we have to remind our kiddos on a daily basis is if this does happen this is what we’re going to do,” he said.
Thompson said the safe room at the Children’s Village would double as a learning unit for gross motor development.
“In preparation to get the children comfortable with the routine, those facilities, this one especially, will be used as a gross motor. So when it’s constructed they can go over there comfortably, walk over there and be familiar with the facility so that it’s not a scary thing when they actually need to go,” she said.
The safe room units are a result of an effort between the ECU, CN Emergency Management and Marshal Service to apply for the grant. The CN was one of 77 tribes to receive a part of a $55.2 million award from HUD on Sept. 14 as part of an Indian Community Development Block Grant.
“This grant is providing a great opportunity to keep our students out of harm’s way during severe weather,” Education Services Deputy Executive Director Ron Etheridge said. “I can think of no better investment than in the safety of our children and the staff charged with teaching those students on a daily basis.”