Northwest Community College (NWCC) student and new Early Childhood Educator, Melissa Harris, is looking forward to a unique opportunity to present at the annual Early Childhood Educators of BC conference in Vancouver May 5-7, 2016. Along with Instructor Jessica Hrechka Fee, the two will share how the college’s unique program integrates local First Nation perspectives and knowledge in the classroom and the positive impact it has on students as future early childhood educators.
NWCC’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) program is distinct. The program integrates local First Nations knowledge and perspectives in the core curriculum. Students learn about the cultural practices that are relevant to the seven First Nations in the region as opposed to a generic and broad approach used in other ECE programs. NWCC also works to empower students to share their cultural knowledge through student-led field trips and community-based education. The program greatly influenced Melissa Harris as a student and continues to guide her practice as an early childhood educator, an experience she will share with conference delegates.
“I have learned the importance of connecting with myself, the land, our elders and finding the inner strength to teach,” says Melissa who is Gitxsan from the village of Gitwangak, “I am looking forward to sharing our northwest perspective and how to integrate hands-on learning by connecting to our surroundings.”
Melissa began her educational journey when her two children were young. Over a few years she took classes part-time at the Terrace campus and transferred online course credits from Northern Lights College to complete her course-work in December 2015. Following in the footsteps of her mother and sister, who are also early childhood educators, Melissa now works full time at a local childcare centre. “I really enjoy working at PACES, it’s a nurturing environment and very accommodating to my family needs,” says Melissa, “We have a great team, and we all learn from each other.”
To prepare for the workshop Melissa and Jessica spent time with a Gitxsan hereditary chief, Simoogit Skayan and Language and Culture Facilitator, Liz Williams. It was an experience that helped Melissa reconnect with her culture and traditions. “Until I learned more about myself and my family history, I didn’t do a lot of connecting”, says Melissa. “This project has reminded me of the importance of connecting to my culture and how I can bring that into practice as an early childhood educator and to my children.”
While connecting to culture is important for First Nations students, it is equally important for non-First Nations. “It’s important for us, as Canadians, to connect to where we live. As educators we need to personally relate to First Nations perspectives,” says Jessica Hrechka Fee, NWCC ECE Instructor, “That connection influences our teaching and our own personal depth leads to a thoughtful and meaningful practice.”
The opportunity to present at the ECE BC Conference is monumental for both Melissa and Jessica. Both are eager to share their personal revelations and the teaching philosophy of the NWCC ECE program with other instructors. First Nations perspectives in early child education are important and, at NWCC have proven to help create a stronger sense of community.