The American Indian College Fund’s (College Fund) Tribal College and Universities (TCU) Early Childhood Education (ECE) Initiatives launched a new project called Restorative Teachings TCU ECE Initiative, a health and wellness initiative funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The program is geared to build the physical and emotional health, strength, and well-being of early childhood learners. This initiative engages four TCUs in programming which includes partnerships with local ECE centers and tribal education partners.
The College Fund kicked off the program in September with a site visit to Sitting Bull College (SBC) in Fort Yates, North Dakota. SBC is a Restorative Teachings TCU ECE Initiative grantee as well as a new Cultivating Lakota Early Childhood Initiative grantee.
The Restorative Teachings Initiative focuses on strengthening health, wellness, and supporting pathways to securing Native families. To secure Native families the goal is to restore tribal teachings of a community, and to restore a place of security within families in terms of economic development while retaining their connections to their tribal culture and language. The Cultivating Lakota Early Childhood Initiative focuses on professional, curriculum, and assessment development for SBC’s Lakól’iyapi Wahópi (Lakota Language Nest).
SBC offers early childhood education degree programs ranging from associate’s to bachelor degrees. The college is also home to an onsite early learning center called Kampus Kids Learning Center, which supports children from six months old to five years of age. The Immersion Language Nest called the Lakól’iyapi Wahópi educates children ages three years to five years of age.
The College Fund staff had the opportunity to observe babies and toddlers full of energy while playing with bouncy balls, plush animals, sensory bottles, and soft building blocks as they interacted with their teachers, and engaged in child-led play with age culturally appropriate materials. Seeing the program at work in the two classrooms at the Kampus Kids Learning Center was exciting.
The impact of the Cultivating Lakota Early Childhood Initiative can be seen in the curriculum at the Lakól’iyapi Wahópi (Lakota Language Nest). A Lakota Language Nest partner created innovative, handmade manipulatives–tools designed to develop children’s fine motor, eye-hand coordination, cognitive, and literacy development skills, from local materials such as large white beans, flat wood cookies, smooth small stones, and flat clear glass marbles. Each has 1 of the 37 letters from the Lakota alphabet written on each piece, allowing for a variety of moveable alphabet activities, which are used to aid the children to become more competent with the Lakota language.
The classrooms are also decorated with posters, labels, and activities that reflect the Lakota language, culture, knowledge, environment, and people. For example, most of the posters reflect local animals such as the buffalo, which is highly respected among the Lakota tribe as a source for food, clothing, and shelter. Labeling is used throughout the classrooms to assist the children in identifying the Lakota language through print, word, letter, and sound identification.
The goal of these literacy components is to encourage the children to read, write, and speak in the Lakota language. A Lakota Language Nest parent said, “Having my child in the program, I am able to converse with my child in the language. Hearing the children speak the language again, and having the children be able to speak to our elders and communicate with them we can heal our families and communities.”
Future goals for SBC are to expand their Lakól’iyapi Wahópi Lakota Language Nest to local early learning centers, and to continue to build and sustain their library with materials including Lakota literacy materials, lesson plans, activities, and manipulatives. Teacher training at SBC remains a critical need and the projects continue to build upon other funded projects to support outreach to Lakota students, and teachers. Supporting Native students, families, parents, and children at TCUs gives them the ability to continue and to complete school. Funding also supports childcare needs in developing high-quality early learning centers and creates a stronger curriculum and assessment in a culturally appropriate way. Through these initiatives SBC was able to restore and strengthen Native practices in their community, tribal college, early learning centers, and local networks.
The American Indian College Fund celebrated SBC’s most recent Early Childhood Education’s programs and centers with them. Chris Fried of SBC’s education department states, “The ECE program has more paid internships for ECE students, resources, meal preparation for traditional meals within our centers, and connecting with the Lakota language and knowledge.” The Restorative Teachings and Cultivating Lakota Initiatives have been successful at SBC for local Native students, children, and families. The College Fund staff wishes the children and families a prosperous year as they return to another school year at Sitting Bull College! Happy learning!