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By Hannah Gonzales, American Indian College Fund Programs Assistant

How can we ensure that the work being done at tribal colleges through the American Indian College Fund’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) programming continues to grow and sustain itself?

What has been the impact of our For the Wisdom of the Children program initiative in strengthening the Native ECE teachers who shape tribal communities’ earliest learners?

Nahrin Aziz, Northwest Indian College ECE Project Director presenting at TIECN session, NAEYC Conference

Nahrin Aziz, Northwest Indian College ECE Project Director presenting at TIECN session, NAEYC Conference

These underlying questions set the stage for the College Fund’s Convene for Year 2 of the For the Wisdom of the Children ECE program. Project directors and coordinators from the six tribal college and university (TCU) sub-grantees in the program met in Nashville, Tennessee in November to share experiences, brainstorm ideas, and learn from each other, while the College Fund shared program expectations and offered encouragement.

The meeting began with project directors and coordinators sharing about the impact, strengths, and quality of their ECE STEM projects as well as their success and pride in their work.

Following, timeline and reporting elements of the remaining program term were discussed. In this logistical overview, an unexpected but welcome spirited discussion about strengthening the quality of Native ECE teachers ensued. The TCU teams reported that the number of Native ECE teachers enrolled in the respective programs is not as significant as impacting individual teachers in a strong, meaningful way over time, since quality rather than quantity of Native teachers is what ultimately results in a deeper impact on Native children and communities.

Following time spent in discussions, attendees reflected on sustainability, a key factor in all College Fund ECE program initiatives that is encouraged from the beginning of each initiative.

Conversation at the For the Wisdom of the Children Year 2 Convene

Conversation at the For the Wisdom of the Children Year 2 Convene

It is important that the For the Wisdom of the Children program encourages and supports sustainability efforts of each TCU’s project and impact, because the work the TCUs are doing in early childhood education can’t stop once the program initiative ends. Each project director and coordinator reflected and wrote on the sustainability of their respective projects and continuing ECE work as they pertain to the goal of program sustainability. A few project directors shared their reflections with the group, and the group ended the meeting with the intention of digging deeper into issues and aspirations raised in this time together.

Sharon Peregoy, Little Big Horn College ECE Project Coordinator presenting at TIECN session, NAEYC Conference

Sharon Peregoy, Little Big Horn College ECE Project Coordinator presenting at TIECN session, NAEYC Conference

After the meeting, the College Fund’s For the Wisdom of the Children project directors and coordinators presented in the Tribal and Indigenous Early Childhood Network (TIECN) session at the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference. The session was vital to providing a platform for Indigenous voices in the field of early childhood education to share their work on a national level. Presenters participated in a poster session on the impact of their respective projects, with points of focus ranging from STEM engagement with nature to Indigenous mathematical concepts. Dozens of ECE professionals from around the nation attended.

The College Fund’s ECE Programs team and TCU project directors and their ECE teams had the opportunity to attend the remainder of the NAEYC conference for professional development purposes. The events, connections, conversations, and informative sessions of the busy week in Nashville were insightful and valuable to the continuation of the College Fund’s ECE programming.

Cheryl LaRose and Hannah Gonzales of the College Fund at NAEYC Conference

Cheryl LaRose and Hannah Gonzales of the College Fund at NAEYC Conference