Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s After School Program looks a little different these days.
Jerri Mayer, originally hired as a master teacher in spring of 2022, took on the position of program coordinator in November 2022.
The start of clubs
Each day of the week, children attend clubs with different themes such as art, young engineers, science, sports, theater, beading, virtual reality and tea party. They first launched in January 2022, when parents and children were given the chance to find out more about each club before students signed up for the ones that interested them.
“When I came on board, children struggled with basic table manners and etiquette during lunch and snack time,” Mayer said.
From that stemmed the idea of a tea party club. With the help of Jamelle Payne in CPN’s Workforce Development & Social Services, students in tea party club learn about table manners and etiquette using real dishes and utensils and sometimes dressing up with items like boas and fedoras.
“It’s not just about etiquette,” Mayer said, adding that they also try to expose the children to different cultures, educate them about topics such as the arts, and start conversations about emotional skills like self-confidence and body image.
Mayer said the difference has been noticeable. In just a few months, she has seen an increase in manners while the children eat but also a decrease in bullying.
In the young engineers’ club, Mayer said students might have a challenge such as being shown a picture of the Eiffel Tower in 2D and being tasked with recreating it in 3D.
In beading club, students learn techniques for Native American beadwork. The younger children start out with large beads. As their fine motor skills improve, they move on to seed beads and learn to make their own patterns.
With all the clubs, she said, there are more advanced activities available for the students as their skills develop.
Mayer also wants students to be exposed to a variety of subjects, which is why they can sign up for a different club every day of the week.
“I didn’t want to pigeonhole certain kids into certain fields,” she said. “Even though you might be science inclined, I think it’s important that you see that liberal arts side of yourself.”
Mayer plans to have fall and spring club schedules, but things will change in the summer.
“The summer program is a little different,” Mayer said, explaining that during the school year, the children are usually only there from 2:30 to 6 p.m. “But in the summer, it’s an all-day program from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
This summer the clubs will continue, but with the common theme Walking Through the Ancient World. It starts with ancient Egypt, moves to Greek and Roman times, and finishes with the Medieval period and a Medieval fair at the end.
For young engineers’ club, students will study construction of the pyramids, learning about ancient architecture and building the Colosseum. In art club, students will replicate King Tut’s sarcophagus and the mosaic floors of Pompeii.
The program will also take children on several field trips to museums across the state.
“Every week, we’re trying our best to have an educational field trip,” Mayer said. “It’s the most wonderful opportunity for these kids.”
In addition, program participants will be taken twice a week in June to Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where they can work with college coaches and athletes in the track department.
With approval from Child Development Center Director Donnette Littlehead, Mayer oversaw building updates that included new floors, new paint and new lighting.
She also brought in new toys and items for the classrooms, including dolls with different skin, hair and eye colors as well as dolls with disabilities. There are also sensory areas with items such as a beanbag to sit in and headphones to muffle noise if students are feeling overstimulated.
Mayer also worked with the CPN Language Department to bring the Potawatomi language into the program.
“The children need to be reconnected with their ancestry,” she said.
Language Aide Robert Collins hosts the Potawatomi Language Program. The children also have access to a language program in the after school program’s computer lab as well as new headsets with microphones, so they can speak Potawatomi words into the microphones to get help with pronunciation.
For children ages 7 to 12 who are struggling in class, Mayer has also added a tutoring program so they can get help with homework and improve their math, science and reading skills.
Mayer and Alicia Lamb, master teacher of the science club, are also working on a mentorship program for the older students.
“We’re trying to instill a sense of ownership in this place,” Lamb said, “Because they’re our oldest kids, sometimes, unfortunately, feel they are too old for the program.”
Lamb wants to instill a sense of pride and responsibility in the children regarding the after school program. She said many of the older children are eager to help, and the program will further encourage them to help staff so they can feel like young professionals and someone their younger peers can admire.
Mayer said more changes are on the way.
“We’re in our infancy. So, I’m thinking, where are we going to be in two years? Three years?” she said. “There are all these things I’m hoping we will be able to do in the future. This is just off the ground, and it’s amazing the things that we’ve accomplished in this short amount of time.”
She said none of it would be possible without the support of Littlehead and the rest of the after school program staff and volunteers.
“Ms. Donnette has been 100 percent supportive of us. When I come to her with these crazy, big ideas, she says, ‘Go for it,’” Mayer said. “The staff is amazing here. When I say these are probably the best people I’ve worked with in 30 years, that’s not a joke. They are very family-oriented, very kind and generous to the children.”
Find out more about the CPN Child Development Center at cpn.news/childdevelopment.