UMass Boston begins Native American Early Childhood Education Scholars program
The University of Massachusetts Boston is working with regional tribes to increase the number of highly qualified Native American early childhood educators and intervention specialists serving Native children.
The Institute for New England Native American Studies (INENAS) and College of Education and Human Development have developed the Native American Early Childhood Education Scholars (NAECES) Program, an integrated early childhood cohort program, in collaboration with the tribes and Head Start facilities serving significant numbers of Native children throughout New England.
The need is great: A shortage of Native early childhood teachers exists in New England to work with Native students.
“There’s a clear desire to have Native teachers,” says INENAS Director Cedric Woods. “They have the facilities, and we have a wonderful early childhood education and early intervention program here at UMass Boston. We wanted to help them address an issue that’s very important to them.”
Tribal communities operate early childhood education facilities in Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and in Massachusetts, there are facilities with a large number of Native children. But often times, there are no certified Native teachers in the classroom.
The program is funded by a $1,037,391 grant by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education.
The grant supports the recruitment, education, and induction of 10 undergraduate Native students to earn their bachelor’s degree in Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings (EECIS) with a concentration in Infant/Toddler Care, or Preschool Education. This includes full tuition and fees, books, a tablet computer, and mentoring services. Students are able to complete classes on campus or in an online program.
“We know there are a lot of Native people working in the field, but not nearly as many who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. We want to increase those numbers,” says Angela Stone-MacDonald, director of the Early Childhood Licensure Program and a principal investigator for the grant.
Salem, Massachusetts resident Carol Simoneau, the program’s first participant and a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, calls NAECES a life changing opportunity for her.
“I have always wanted to be able to give back to my tribe, and thanks to this program, I will have more to offer,” Simoneau says. “I would encourage any eligible Native person interested in early education to apply. This is a wonderful way to gain knowledge and skills to pass on to the next generation.”
The College of Education and Human Development is piloting an online early education program in conjunction with the NAECES program. Native students are able to complete their coursework online, a critical component to the program, since commuting to campus would be an obstacle for a large majority who are already working in the early education field.
Several tribes see the importance of the program.
Kurt Eichelberg, education manager for the Mohegan Tribe, says his tribe has looked into establishing a new position within their education department dealing with early childhood education consultations and interventions, allowing them to identify, at an earlier age, students who may potentially have developmental disabilities/issues and assist families with the process for testing and advocating for academic accommodations.
“Today, Pre-K is becoming the new kindergarten as students at this age group are required to know what used to be taught in kindergarten,” Eichelberg says. “To ensure Native American Pre-K students meet kindergarten entrance requirements it is all the more important that we have highly trained Native American teachers who can prepare Pre-K students for public K-12 education.”
Amber Wire, education director for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Maine, says her tribe is looking to build a Tribal Early Childhood/Daycare Center in the near future. The NAECES Program, along with a new center, will provide more opportunity and security for tribal members interested in early childhood education.
“Here, a majority of students need to enroll in college in order to get their early childhood education certification, and with limited and competitive programs for employment it can be very frustrating,” she said. “This is a wonderful program to take advantage of for those seeking stepping stones to help further their education.”
From a tribe’s perspective, it is important to have tribal members prepared to run early childhood education programs, so they can support young children in their cultural, social, and educational development. The program also encourages Native students to earn bachelor’s degrees, serving as role models for the young children in their classrooms and Native communities.
“With a center of our own we will be able to incorporate our culture and language that otherwise would not be available at other local centers and our tribal members will be a part of that to give back to our children,” Wire said.
For more information on the Native American Early Childhood Education Scholars program, visit the Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings website, or email program director Lynne Mendes at firstname.lastname@example.org.