by Kelli Chelberg, Assistant Professor and Project Director for the Ihduwiyayapi Project
In the spring of 2022, the American Indian College Fund awarded the College of Menominee Nation (CMN) the Ihduwiyayapi: Advancing Indigenous Early Childhood Education Grant for its teacher education program, which is a community-centered and multi-faceted approach to early childhood education that builds on CMN’s current capacity to teach and train early childhood educators to graduate with the skills to be fully equipped to teach the Menominee Nation’s littlest learners.
The CMN, a tribal college, is located on the Menominee Reservation with a satellite campus in Green Bay, Wisconsin and offers several education programs relevant to teacher education. Degree programs include an Associate of Arts and Science degree in early childhood education, a Bachelor of Arts degree in culturally responsive programs and projects, and a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary/middle school education (K–9th grade including a four-year-old kindergarten program) with Wisconsin state licensure.
One of CMN’s first goals was to build upon existing relationships within the community and to identify the needs of its local educational institutions (Head Start, Tribal School, Menominee Indian School District, immersion program, etc.). CMN is fortunate to have many great relationships with its community childcare and school centers. In the fall 2022, the college held a listening session with school superintendents, building administrators, and center directors to learn more about their district/building initiatives, identify professional development needs, and learn about the knowledge and skills these institutions need and desire in future educators.
CMN’s second program goal was to build the institutional capacity and program/credential offerings it has in the teacher education department. As a result of ongoing conversations with surrounding school districts and early childhood programs, CMN identified several critical challenges facing early childhood programs.
Many programs need more highly trained and certified/licensed teachers in addition to a pipeline of potential teacher trainee options. CMN is working with its local high school, Menominee Indian High School, to create an early childhood training program pathway. This program would allow for dual credit options through CMN course offerings at the high school.
Early childhood programs in the community face a need for more knowledge and training for their teachers in specific areas (classroom management, assessment, curriculum). As a result, CMN is rewriting and updating its coursework to ensure these essential content areas are covered in a culturally relevant and good way. In addition, CMN is indigenizing its general education outcomes (GEOs) through a review of existing GEOs while considering CMN’s mission statement and guiding values, the Menominee Model of Sustainability, and Menominee Seven Grandfather Teachings. As a result, CMN identified new GEOs that better reflect its community and learners and is in the process of updating syllabi and ensuring the new GEOs are reflected in assessments and activities.
CMN also seeks to build capacity for early childhood teachers, CMN student pre-service students, and faculty. Thanks to the College Fund’s support, CMN will be offering cultural teaching lodges during the spring 2023 semester to support the teaching of traditional knowledge. In collaboration with other CMN departments and programs, the college is offering early childhood educators and community members opportunities to learn more about Indigenous culture and teachings so that they can incorporate these practices into their classrooms.
CMN is asking education students to share their subject knowledge with peers to help support teaching and learning from within our community of educators.
As a culmination of our teachings over the past year, the teacher education department has been hosting talking circles and, with the support of the College Fund, offering more traditional teachings and experiential learning opportunities. These traditional teachings and talking circles are shared with an elder from our community and allows for early educators to learn more about Indigenous culture.
As a result of our experiential learning opportunities, and in collaboration with Nicianak 4H Club, we are creating activity plans that pre-service educators can use in their future classrooms. Most importantly these traditional teachings are building community, creating educational leaders, and empowering future educators to be inclusive of culture in their classrooms. As a culmination of our winter teachings, CMN will be hosting a round dance to honor Indigenous education for CMN students, staff, faculty, and local communities (Menominee, Stockbridge-Munsee, Oneida) as well as tribal nations across the state of Wisconsin. Invited guests will offer teachings about the round dance.
One CMN teacher education student who is leading the planning stated the opportunity to collaborate with others across the college and the community has given her confidence and excited her to complete her teaching degree so that she may enter the classroom to put into practice all she has learned.