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Working together to help nurture early learning in two British Columbia First Nations communities

By: Kathy O’Sullivan, Program Manager, Welcome to Kindergarten, and Marie Thom, Early Learning Teacher Consultant, Richmond School District

The Welcome to Kindergarten (WTK) team in British Columbia had an opportunity to visit two First Nations communities, Tsay Keh Dene and Kwadacha, to share the Welcome to Kindergarten program with teachers, community elders, the daycare supervisors and programmers.

In April of 2016, Tsay Keh Dene, hosted the WTK team and invited the Kwadacha for the first time. Tsay Keh Dene First Nation is one of the Sekani bands. This community is one of the most remote villages and is nestled in the regions of the Rocky Mountain Trench of northeastern British Columbia. It is accessible through forest service roads and by airplane out of Prince George and MacKenzie. Tsay Keh Dene means “people of the rocks” in the Tsek’ene language. The Tsay Keh Dene school has six teaching staff and 57 students from K4 to Grade 11.

The WTK team was welcomed and given a lovely tour of the community by the principal. The team set up the workshop in the new community centre across from the elementary school. What a wonderful learning experience it was for our team, the teachers and two First Nations bands to share stories about early learning, parent involvement and, the values and traditions of life in small communities. The ongoing changes in weather, remoteness and limited access to resources were mentioned but we noted the resilience of both communities. During the workshop, we observed the beautiful wildlife around us, birds soaring, coyotes wandering and even a local burro walking by, all of great value to the community. Celebrations were planned for the new elders complex and fitness centre opening a few days later.

Kwadacha Nation in Fort Ware is also a remote scenic village surrounded by beautiful wilderness. Kwadacha means “white water” in the Tsak’ene language. The Kwadacha Education Society oversees the education of all band members within and outside for all ages. Aatse Davie School is an Independent K-12 school. There are nine professional staff, 11 support staff and 100 students.  
In April 2017, the WTK team was invited to share the program and give a refresher workshop for those who attended last year in Tsay Keh Dene. Anita Derkson and her team (Katrina VanSomer, Marissa Fairchild and Ashley Pierre) helped to set up in their lovely Kwadacha Daycare for the Welcome to Kindergarten Workshop.
Anita gave us a lovely tour of the new Aatse Davie School (K-12), the Kwadacha Band office and other landmarks. Participants were actively engaged, seemed excited to share with us the successful strategies they used for the last year’s junior kindergarten and kindergarten during the Welcome to Kindergarten event, and were eager to learn new ideas. It was exciting to see their involvement with the wet felting demonstration by Marie Thom to enhance Taan’s Moons and other shared stories of Tsek’ene.  These daycare leaders are very proud of their Kwadacha community and supporting youngsters in their learning.  
It was evident from our informal conversations and shared stories how they integrate the Tsek’ene culture, traditions, language and stories with new learning at school, in the home and in the daycare. Lorraine, Kwadacha’s community liaison worker, shared how useful the resources were in the WTK bag when she made home visits. Anita’s leadership and the support with Aatse Davie’s school administration for the Welcome to Kindergarten program and Early Learning continues to be inspiring.  We also left WTK and early learning gifts for the children and teachers including a CD of the WTK songs with both Tsey Keh Dene and Kwadacha which were gratefully appreciated.
With our first visit to Tsay Key Dene, a new initiative was implemented through The Learning Partnership and WTK to support young children. Through the generous sponsorship of Conifex, the WTK program supports families of the Tsay Key Dene by offering a book a month for their children’s home libraries, as well as tips for parents, which include activities that the parents could use when reading with their children.
There was a mutual feeling of learning with us and the members of these communities. It has been an honour and privilege working with these two distant communities.
Conifex has proudly sponsored the WTK program in School District #57 and School District #91, through funding the Book A Month program for these two communities and the WTK bags. The importance of early childhood development and early intervention is key to future student success. Our sponsored partnerships have been significant in helping educators in the field to meet this goal.