Tleena Ives grew up immersed in the language and culture of her Native people, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe—knowledge gleaned from her extended family and her early education.
"My memories from my early experience in education included learning to speak in S'Klallam, learning our traditional songs and dances, and being instilled with a great sense of cultural identity," Ives said.
So when it came to the education of her own four children, she worked ardently as a parent volunteer to help shape the tribe's early learning curriculum to reflect this important heritage.
This experience would ultimately lead Ives to her current professional role, serving as the tribal liaison at Washington's Department of Early Learning. She's responsible for working with 29 federally recognized tribes around the state, helping them implement educational programs that reflect tribal values and sovereignty.
This personal journey also led her to the Certificate in Native Education program at the University of Washington College of Education.
Building a Bridge
Ives is one of the more than 40 members of the first cohort to enroll in this new certificate program, which is run by the UW College of Education in conjunction with UW Continuum College.
This two-year certificate program is designed to give educators the essential knowledge and skills needed to help Native American students thrive in their schools and communities. Many education professionals who engage with this population are non-Native, and the program helps them understand the unique challenges of this work.
"It's bridging education and tribal communities," said program manager Dawn Hardison-Stevens. "The coursework pushes people to reach out to the community. It's opening up dialogue and communication, which is key for Native youth to be successful in the school system."
For Ives, who serves in the education policy arena, the program has been invaluable to her work with tribal educators.
"This is a perfect fit for the work I am doing, even though I'm not necessarily in the field as much educators are," she said. "It helps give me an understanding of the work our educators are doing to prepare Native learners and to work with them."
Reaching a Diverse Audience
The program attracts a broad range of students, from preschool teachers and community educators to principals and superintendents. About half are non-Native. Many work in more urban areas with significant numbers of Native students, not just traditional reservations or tribal communities.
"There's been a shift where the majority of the Native people are not on reservations, and so there's what's called urban Indian groups, urban Indian centers," Hardison-Stevens noted. "Places like the Seattle School District have this huge Native population—and not necessarily from a reservation, but from Native communities."
That trend means there's a growing need for a program like this, and a broader pool of students taking it.
"There's quite a diversity in participants in this program, all of whom are interested in being better educators for Native students," Ives observed. "We have a huge workforce of those that are interested in working and supporting tribal education."
Impacting Across the Region
Because the certificate program attracts students from a wide range of communities all around the state, it's delivered primarily online. Participants get together at the UW for a three-day Summer Institute to kick off the program, then interact through a variety of online tools and platforms for their classes.
For a busy professional and mother like Ives, this format has been key to enabling her to complete the program. It's also allowed her to extend the learning experience to her family.
"Having the ability to participate in the comfort of my home has been really important to me," said Ives, who works in Olympia and lives in her Native community more than an hour from the UW campus. "It provides that better work-life balance, but also as an example for my children. They're often around me working on homework or sitting near, so they can also listen to the instructor-led discussions, which usually continue into our family conversations."
She added that she's formed strong bonds with fellow students and instructors in the program, from both the Summer Institute and in getting together with classmates in her area and through her travels around the state.
Being a Part of the Change
The certificate program is one example of the larger effort to include teachings about tribal sovereignty in K-12 school curricula across Washington state, which was mandated by law in 2015. School districts must now figure out how to implement the curriculum, known as Since Time Immemorial.
"We introduce people to what sovereignty means, we introduce them to treaty rights. We introduce them to the historical aspects of what the United States government has implemented on indigenous people," Hardison-Stevens said. "Part of that is knowing the Native American history. It's identifying the historical traumas that have been endured by Native people. It's bringing educators this awareness and trying to make relationships and build consensus."
Ives noted that her work on early learning efforts for Native students is another way to address gaps in the educational system.
"For a long time, tribes have not been able to see themselves in our education system," she said. "Our story has not been taught, and if it has been, it hasn't always been the true story. And so it's important for us to have that opportunity, right from the beginning, to be able to instill it."
Looking to the Future
One more goal of the Certificate in Native Education is to sow the seeds of learning for the next generation of Native teachers and educational leaders. Ives is a prime example, as she's also earning graduate-level academic credit through the program.
"I hope to eventually move on to complete a master's degree," she said. "I feel like this program is the little baby step that I've needed to get back onto the right track of completing my education and continuing on."
Hardison-Stevens observed this effect as well.
"We had people in the program say, 'Oh my gosh, I need to further my education. I'm gonna go after my PhD,' or another degree," she noted. "That empowerment was pretty powerful to see."
As Ives and her classmates complete their final projects and conclude their two-year certificate experience, the UW prepares to launch the second certificate cohort in summer 2018. Ives sees the program having an even greater impact in the future.
"This program has been absolutely amazing and beautiful, and one that I highly recommend to everyone, from those in early learning, K-12, higher education, parents and tribal leaders," Ives said. "I think about how they can benefit from it. I feel like this program is going to explode and grow and help our tribal communities."
Story by David Hirning, UW Professional & Continuing Education.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications