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Treasured Early Childhood Education Director honored

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RONAN — The 49th annual Early Childhood Education Powwow began by honoring the woman who initiated the event. Jeanne Christopher quickly rose through the ranks of Headstart, beginning as a parent volunteer, to cook, teacher, and director.

Always a champion for children and parents, Jeanne’s career spans 50 years, impacting over 10,000 children, many of whom are now the grandparents of current students in Headstart and Early Headstart programs. 

Longtime co-worker and friend, Lolita Hendrickson explained in 1974 the program took place at the teen center on the Arlee Powwow grounds. At the end of each day they had to put away and cover all the toys and materials as the center accommodated stickball games in the evening. For several years the program used residential homes in Arlee, pleasing homeowners since the staff cleaned, painted, and fixed up the yard.

With a special needs child of her own, Jeanne taught the teachers how to help her child. The importance of parent involvement because they are a child’s best teacher, remains one of her most adamant beliefs. Teachers often used inventive strategies to meet the needs of their special students. Hendrickson told how they used bags of pinto beans to weigh down walkers so they wouldn’t tip over. 

Denise Incashola, another longtime co-worker, feels today’s teachers don’t have the creative freedom teachers used to have and that teaching practices have become very strict. 

While reminiscing about the early days of Headstart, Hendrickson said “we would have campfires and roast marshmallows with the children.” She said the kids loved the experience, but today’s safety regulations don’t allow that kind of activity. One year the teachers took the children to Missoula to see the circus and then for the following two weeks all the curriculum revolved around the children creating and putting on their own circus. She remembers one child insisted on being ET and his parents brought in dry ice so he could emerge on stage through smoke.

This year’s powwow had six drum groups, (Post Creek, The Defenders, Bad Canyon, DB Express, Yammcut, & Chief Cliff), 

but for the first powwow in 1975, Hendrickson said Johnny Arlee was the only drum. She added that for one of the early Headstart powwows her own mother processed her Banty chickens so the children would have feathers to wear. 

Each year moccasins are made for each child to have and wear at the powwow. This year, Patty Bundy and her team began work as long ago as last summer to complete 232 pairs of moccasins for this year’s children.

During the evening festivities, when complimented about her many amazing accomplishments, Christopher stepped back and waved her arm to indicate all the attendees and said, “No, they have done it.” 

Remarks made by co-workers, current and past at the powwow included, “We appreciate everything you have done,” “Best Headstart teacher ever,” and “we cared for each other then and still do.” 

According to Incashola, Jeanne was “the best boss ever!”

Current ERSEA Coordinator, Liz Camel, said one of the things that makes Jeanne so special comes from the fact she makes time for everyone. She has an open-door policy. Even with all her responsibilities, Camel said she makes time for people like there’s “nothing on her plate, and she is that way with everyone.” 

As the person in charge of student registration, Camel wants people to know that Headstart and Early Headstart are currently enrolling students for next year. You can print an application by going to: or call the office at 406-745-4509.



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