Indigenous Students Put Language and Culture First in Early Childhood Education Program
Courtesy of the University of Washington
Jasmyne Diaz’s young daughters came home one day from the Tulalip Early Learning Academy (TELA), their birth-to-kindergarten child care center, singing a stanza from “huy syaʔyaʔ”— the Lushootseed goodbye song. Over and over they sang the lines they remembered, not knowing what followed. As a member of the Tulalip Tribes, Diaz recognized the Lushootseed words but didn’t know the language well enough to help with the rest of the song. She thought of her great-grandmother — a Lushootseed educator — and her grandmother, who’d earned a doctorate in education. She thought of her three girls and the future she wanted for them. She said, “I decided if they knew Lushootseed, I also had to learn and help them.”
Diaz is now a teaching assistant with the Tulalip Tribes’ Lushootseed Language Department, teaching not only her own children but many of the community’s young students. Diaz appreciates the important work TELA is doing to educate the tribe’s littlest learners, infusing their early education with the language, culture, and teachings of their elders.
TELA is one program in one Indigenous community. But all across the country, there are not enough early childhood teachers to meet the need. Educators like Diaz, who are invested in and represent the community they support. When students see teachers who look like them, studies report a positive impact on engagement and achievement in the classroom.
The University of Washington is working to address this need, building on the success of initiatives like My Brother’s Teacher, an innovative fellowship program that recruits Black and brown male students to study teaching. This fall, thanks to a $38 million grant from the Ballmer Group to increase and diversify Washington’s early childhood education workforce via scholarships and other support, the UW College of Education and partnering tribal communities will welcome an inaugural cohort of Indigenous undergraduates studying early childhood education.
By building and growing this initial group of educators with Native communities, program leaders hope to apply the learnings to more communities that have been furthest from educational justice.
The first-of-its-kind program is being co-designed by tribal leaders and UW staff and faculty. College of Education Dean Mia Tuan says the process is intentionally slow, in order to authentically involve and benefit the community.
Read the full story on the University of Washington Magazine website.