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By Shantel Alonzo, SIPI early childhood education student

I am a member of the Navajo Nation from the Ramah-Navajo reservation attending the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), where I am majoring in early childhood education (ECE). I will be graduating from SIPI in April 2020 and plan to continue my education at the University of New Mexico in the fall of 2020.

In 2018 SIPI was awarded the American Indian College Fund’s “For the Wisdom of the Children: Strengthening the Teacher of Color Pipeline” grant.  The For the Wisdom of the Children ECE STEM Initiative is generously funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and supports SIPI’s ability to create STEM opportunities for Native children and families while enhancing the institution’s teacher of color pipeline. Currently, I serve as an intern for SIPI’s ECE initiative and help support these goals, while learning more about serving Native children and families and using social media as a tool to expand the teacher of color pipeline.

Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are social media sites that reach millions of people daily and introduce them to new businesses and products. As a millennial and current college student, I use pretty much every source of social media and have seen it grow and expand into a huge marketing tool. In my personal life, I use social media to learn about universities, non-profit organizations, new coffee shops, and new Indigenous-owned businesses. Professionally, SIPI ECE students created an Instagram account (@SIPIECESCHOLARS) to increase program awareness. There we created a community for pre-service and practicing Indigenous educators. The goal of this Instagram account was simple: To continue to bring teachers into the early childhood education field to ensure that SIPI ECE is a part of the Native teacher pipeline.

The idea of creating an Instagram account came to us during a meeting in the fall of 2019. Prior to the meeting, I had followed an Instagram account (@thirty7.gives) that showcased Indigenous educators from all over the country. It showcased two SIPI alumni and it amazed me—I was able to see what the next step in my educational career could possibly be.

When we first created the Instagram account, we had zero followers. In order to gain followers and expand our presence, I created a flyer that promoted the account. I posted flyers all over campus and continued to urge fellow ECE students to follow the account. As of January 2020, the SIPIECESCHOLARS Instagram account has 75 followers. In order to connect with other Indigenous educators, we use hashtags, #NativeECE, #IndigenousSTEM, #NativeTeachers, #NativeCommunities, #EducationIsTheAnswer, #SIPI, #TCU, and #TribalCollege.

Student success is one of our priorities. Success comes in many forms and we chose to show that through student profiles. We have interviewed three students thus far (myself included). Each student told a little about themselves and had a post dedicated to them and their success. Not only are these posts beneficial to each featured student, but they also allow others to celebrate with the students. It’s important to celebrate success, especially at tribal colleges where many students are faced with challenges to completing their education, and we have several students in mind for the spotlight posts in the upcoming months.

Navajo Technical University (@navajotechu), Diné College (@dine.college), and Salish Kootenai College (@skcollege) are just some other tribal colleges on Instagram. We were inspired by these TCUs’ Instagram accounts. Each of their accounts includes posts about campus events, school schedules, and they advertise workshops for their students.

Our own Instagram account is dedicated to future and current SIPI ECE students. We post about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, workshops, and recap events that we host to build excitement for future events. An example was the SIPI Holiday Comedy Jam with Pax Harvey and Tatanka Means. We used social media to spread the word about this event and had a great turnout. Students informally asked to share how they heard about the event said they saw it on Instagram.

We hope to convey a positive image of Native teachers through our Instagram account. We also hope to motivate and inspire prospective and current ECE students.

SIPI can connect with students, educators, and a variety of organizations through social media. Social media is a great tool not only for promotions but also for creating a closer community. Through Instagram we can continue to share news about SIPI and its ECE program. The teacher of color pipeline will continue to be strengthened through our social media presence and the public awareness that comes from it.