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Eleven Native American educators, already working in early-education classrooms in the Gila River Indian Community, received their bachelor’s degrees after completing an innovative two-year program offered by Arizona State University.
The students, who met onsite on the Gila River Reservation and had some previous college credit, received their bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, with a concentration in early-childhood education from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.
While completing the course work, the students continued to teach in Head Start classrooms – a program that promotes school readiness for children from birth to age 5, from low-income families – or other early education programs.
“I’m so proud ASU could be a part of this program,” said Marlene Tromp, vice provost of ASU’s West campus and dean of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. “When we reach children early in life with care, justice and love, we can transform our communities.”
The program, Gila River Early Educators Attaining Teaching Excellence (GRE 2 ATE), is a collaborative partnership between ASU’s Center for Indian Education and the Gila River Indian Community’s Tribal Education.
Professors in ASU’s School of Social Transformation, Teachers College and the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Science taught the classes, which focused on curriculum planning, child development, and integrating culture and Native language into early-childhood classrooms.
The focus on culture was a part of the program that graduate Jennifer Parker, a paraprofessional educator at Casa Blanca Community School, found especially important.
“Education is changing, and I’m happy that I get to bring community into the classroom and develop curriculum toward that,” Parker said.
Following their graduation, participants in the program will receive a year of mentoring from GRE 2 ATE program manager Deborah Chadwick to help them find permanent Head Start and early-education teaching positions.
Chadwick will meet monthly with the graduates to provide individualized support and help the teachers navigate the complex reality of being a classroom teacher.
“Often novice teachers leave the classroom within the first few years of teaching,” Chadwick said. “We want our students to be successful beyond receiving their BA degree so we will continue to provide an additional year of support.”
Addressing the graduates at a recent celebration, Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen R. Lewis was excited for the legacy from this project.
“We want successful, healthy generations coming up, and you’ll be teaching our future,” he said to the cohort of 11 graduates.
It’s a sentiment that graduate Kimberly Beeson, a teacher assistant in infant/toddler classroom in a District 5 Gila River Head Start program, echoed.
“I really look forward to the coming years and working with the babies. It really is my passion,” she said.
The GRE 2 ATE program was funded by a 2012 professional development grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education.
Anna Consie, firstname.lastname@example.org
School of Social Transformation