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Arizona educators praise early-childhood program for Native Americans

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WASHINGTON – Arizona educators Wednesday praised a Bureau of Indian Education program that gets Native American parents actively engaged in the education of their children from birth until kindergarten.

Arizona has eight of the nation’s 43 Family and Child Education, or FACE sites, which assist tribal families in home-based, early childhood and adult education, and job training.

“The FACE model recognizes that education begins at birth and parents are the first and most important teacher of their child,” said Jacquelyn Power, the superintendent and principal of Blackwater Community School, a school on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

Power was one of five witnesses who testified at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee oversight hearing on the progress of early childhood development and education in Indian Country.

Power said her school, which runs from preschool to second grade, has participated in the FACE program for 21 years. She said the program works with families from before a child is born until the time he or she is 5, encouraging families to enroll the children in early educational programs like preschool.

“FACE is the most significant education initiative in the BIE’s history,” Power said in her testimony.

Etta Shirley, FACE coordinator and principal of Little Singer Community School in Winslow, said the four-component program focuses on early childhood education, adult and parent education, “home-based” training and “parent as teacher” training – or PAT Time – at a center.

Parenting educators at each FACE site assist preschool tribal children with in-home education and education at their PAT centers where parents can help teach their children.

Power testified that the FACE program has shown improvement in early education for Indian children and that those who regularly participate in it are “academically stronger.”

“Some of the outcomes for the home-based program show that nearly 100 percent of the children from tribal families receiving this service (are) enrolled in preschool,” Power said.

Children who participate in FACE have also regularly exceeded the national average for English language development and vocabulary, Power said.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the program appeared to be a “success,” while Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called FACE and programs like it big steps toward improving the education of Native American children.

“This absolutely is the beginning of a change,” Heitkamp said.

Improving these programs for tribal children is important, she said.

“If we don’t do it here … we will continue to spend money on prisons, we will continue to spend money on juvenile detention, and we will continue to be frustrated,” Heitkamp said. “We can, in fact, change this because it is for so many children the absolute hope of the future.”

Shirley said next step for the FACE program in Arizona is to work with the Navajo Nation’s Health, Education, and Human Services Committee.

“We’re going to be talking with them on trying to get their support to help us push this four component FACE … throughout Arizona,” Shirley said.