NAYA’s Early Head Start program reopens at Applegate Elementary School

NAYA’s Early Head Start program reopens at Applegate Elementary School

Providing innovative and culturally-specific childhood programming is an essential part of  NAYA’s mission to serve everyone from babies to elders. So, we’re excited to announce that NAYA’s Early Head Start program has reopened at Applegate Elementary School to help families and give kiddos a cultural “head start” on their educational journeys.

“The classroom focuses its developmental teachings through the use of natural environment and play learning,” says Chelsea Phelan, NAYA’s early childhood services manager. “It’s one opportunity among a larger suite of services that includes ready-to-learn programs, parent support courses, and parent-child engagement events. All of these services ensure our little ones grow and develop in a positive environment.” 

Lack of funding shuttered the program nearly five years ago, and the need for childcare has only grown in the time since. NAYA’s Early Head Start was initially reopened in early January with a reduced class size, in an effort to give both staff and students time to readjust to learning together in person. With the final hire of a much-needed, additional instructor in mid-March, the program was officially fully-staffed. COVID-19 delayed the reopening, and understaffing and the numerous impacts caused by the pandemic meant our community needed more time to get it right. Life is shifting to a new normal, and NAYA’s Early Head Start is ready to meet our parents’ needs. 

“So much of NAYA’s work and programs over the years have been built because our community has needed and asked for them. The Native community trusts NAYA to serve our population in the best way possible, and our Early Head Start at Applegate is one of those much-needed programs that allows families to go to work or school trusting that their children are safe,” said Director of Family Services Tawna Sanchez. 

Currently, we have capacity for 12 children, aged 0 to 3. The program operates year-round, Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m.–5:30 p.m., with scheduled days off for planning and well-deserved breaks. Parents can rest easy knowing their children are being cared for, and they’re playing and learning to their hearts’ content! 

“Because we’re kid powered, we play. We dig in the mud, go on daily walks, do daily drum circle and singing, arts and crafts, eat healthy snacks, and all the great kiddo stuff,” said Phelan. “There are quite a few activities that the children really enjoy, but right now it’s drumming and singing, or reading and acting out book characters.”

Beyond letting kids do what they do best, NAYA’s Early Head Start program provides so much more. Staff believe in the importance of promoting a quality learning environment for children that is at its core culturally and developmentally appropriate. Phelan says this approach is one way to combat the overall marginalization of the Native American community. She added that research indicates adults who engage children in culturally responsive educational experiences helps to build their self-confidence and skills, increases their awareness and appreciation of diverse beliefs and cultures, and last but not least, maximizes their academic achievements and educational success. 

“From the earliest beginnings of a child’s life, they are experiencing and learning about their culture and the world around them! Young children have the intellectual capacity for creating positive perceptions of others as they engage in meaningful, culturally responsive experiences with the primary caregivers in their lives,” Phelan said.

Moreover, NAYA’s Early Head Start builds community. Relationships that start in the class can last through a child’s life. There are many examples of staff and community members who fondly recall spending time as kids in NAYA’s halls through our numerous programs. NAYA’s  community will continue to celebrate our multicultural and multi-tribal heritage as a source of strength, including creating spaces for our people to gather together and live the values of our own unique cultures.

Interested parents will be happy to hear that NAYA’s Early Head Start waitlist is open and applications are being accepted, so don’t wait! To determine if your child is eligible, please call 503-570-1110.