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ECE program recognized for First Nations curriculum shift

TERRACE Northwest Community Colleges (NWCC) Early Childhood Education (ECE) program has recently obtained recognition from the Province of BC Early Childhood Education Registry for providing First Nations perspectives throughout its ECE curriculum. The ECE program at NWCC has been steadily adopting teaching practices to better integrate First Nations knowledge and philosophy, a move initiated by Joan Turecki, the programs longtime coordinator who retired in 2010. As a result, the ECE department has embraced an educational approach that is mindful of the traditional people in the Northwest and their way of living and caring for their traditional territory. We encourage mindful thinking about the ways of learning, says Jessica Hrechka Fee, who replaced Turecki. Rather than being an add-on to previous ECE curricula, First Nations knowledge has shaped the programs core content curriculum, a shift that is in step with Northwest Community Colleges values and operating principles that encourage departments to not only be aware of but to commit to embracing First Nations heritage and culture. This, adds Hrechka Fee, allows for opportunities to involve communities in learning. For example, this past year the ECE program visited the Eagle traditional fishing area, Guxtselixit, of the Gitxsan Nation and had lessons from Simoogit (Chief) Skayan and Simadiiks. We visited the traditional territory for the Kitsumkalum people and engaged in discussions about learning with Elder Mildred Roberts, added Hrechka Fee. We had opportunities to learn about First Nations art and how to introduce it in the early years, from students in NWCCs Frieda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art. Students were able to complete practica and courses in their home communities using distance technologies with some face-to-face gatherings. And in May, ECE will celebrate is first graduating class of First Nations Post Basic Certificate students. This specialized certificate program emphasizes skills necessary for work in First Nations childcare settings. NWCCs offering this specialized certificate, along with the fact the ECE department uses the 100- page Aboriginal Early Childhood Education Guide created by Turecki to guide best practices in the program, were factors taken into consideration by the provincial registry with its official acknowledgment, says Hrechka Fee. As a department, its rewarding to earn a distinction from the provincial ECE registry, said Hrechka Fee. We have worked hard to shape our curriculum so that it not only connects students to cultural knowledge in the Northwest but also creates a learning environment that reflects the way we would want our students to practise in the early learning field. As a program, we continually look for new ideas, ways of learning and resources that will inspire a shift in thinking and teaching. Student Tawnia Carriere is a big believer in the ECE departments emphasis on inclusivity in learning: In the beginning of my ECE course, I did not really understand why there was such an emphasis on First Nations perspectives and culture. I felt I was fairly aware of First Nations culture only to realize there is much to learn. There is a definite impact on the children, peers and teachers alike as they become more aware of their own community. I believe it is very important, actually critical, to make sure we acknowledge cultures and help inform others. So much of First Nations culture and traditions has been lost, we have a part to play in changing this. When an Aboriginal child is connected by seeing some of his or her own culture in a class it gives them a sense of pride; I have witnessed this with my own eyes! It also helps other children to open up, ask questions in a safe environment and begin to understand a little bit more about their classmates. My learning has definitely taught me to include First Nations perspectives into my practice. I have also learned that this can be done in a way that doesn't force other cultures onto a class, but that it can be done in a way that opens up conversation and pride. As one little boy noticed the pictures of the First Nations alphabet that I brought into the class, the designs and animals that were not familiar and traditional looking, he commented right away. He noticed the change immediately and I was able to give him copies of the exact print on the wall for him to colour and explain what the picture was. Something that simple brought an opportunity to share a glimpse of another art form to the children.

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