First Peoples, First Steps Alliance

Formed in 2010, through a partnership between the Native American Community and the Foundation for Early Learning, now Thrive Washington, the “First Peoples, First Steps Alliance” brings together Native leaders, Native communities, family advocates, early learning experts and non-Native allies to promote school readiness among Native children and families.

The Alliance is currently focused on three priority areas:

  • In partnership with the Native American Early Learning Project, the Alliance is helping shape a Preschool Curriculum to teach early learners about Tribal Sovereignty. The curriculum will build on the success of the Since Time Immemorial curriculum currently being utilized in the K-12 system. A pilot of the Pre-K curriculum is scheduled for the Fall of 2015.
  • In 2013, the Alliance conducted a statewide survey of Native families about their priorities and concerns relative to early learning. The Alliance identified keeping Native early learning professionals in classrooms as a key area of focus in the Preferred Certification Project. That work continues in 2015 through targeted partnerships with organizations like the Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Council.
  • The Alliance is currently exploring how Tribes can utilize current federal funds to prepare Native children for Kindergarten in a culturally appropriate way that is consistent with overall federal goals, but flexible in terms of local implementation.

For more information about the First Peoples, First Steps Alliance, please contact Dan Torres, Director of Community Momentum.

Preferred Certification Project

The issue of retaining Native staff in classrooms is of critical importance to Native communities. A large body of evidence demonstrates the value to Native children of having teachers who are themselves Native and part of tribal communities. Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) data indicate that Native children are entering kindergarten unprepared – without the skills that they require to have the best opportunities for success in school.

In language development, according to the WaKIDS assessment, only 56 percent of Native children demonstrated the expected characteristics of children entering kindergarten, and only 42 percent of Native children demonstrated math competency. The alliance believes that maintaining Native teachers in the classroom is critical to instilling a sense of self-esteem and confidence for Native children to enter kindergarten prepared to learn.

Among alliance members, there is increasing concern that governmentally mandated staff qualification requirements for early learning professionals are having the unintended consequence of pushing Native teachers out of classrooms. Head Start and Early Head Start have new qualification requirements, increasing educational certifications to a minimum of an associate’s degree for assistant teachers and bachelor’s degrees for lead teachers. Based on 2011 Head Start data, 80 percent of teachers working in Native classrooms are not meeting the new requirements. As a result, the First Peoples, First Steps Alliance hired a consulting team to guide the Preferred Certification Project. The project was led by CHiXapkaid (Dr. Michael Pavel) who is an enrolled member of the Skokomish Tribe.

In the first phase of the project, the alliance:

  • Completed Parent Needs Assessment Report
  • Hosted, in partnership with Grandview Early Learning Center and Puyallup Tribe of Indians, a Little Pow Wow in June 2013
  • Met with Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs and Tribal Leaders Congress on Education
  • Conducted four listening sessions across the state with the tribal and urban tribal communities
  • Offered input on President Obama’s universal preschool bill
  • Served on an early childhood education panel at the National Indian Education Conference in Rapid City, S.D.

Thrive Washington and alliance members have also completed a report to the Native community and the Department of Early Learning that recommends a preferred pathway for Native early childhood educators.

Dear Children: Preferred Preparation for Native Early Childhood Educators

This project was generously supported by funding from The Boeing Company, the Longbrake Family Foundation, Tulalip Tribe Charitable Fund, and the Department of Early Learning.

For more information about the First Peoples, First Steps Alliance, please contact Dan Torres, Director of Community Momentum.