For six months in 2015, a group of dedicated parents and grandparents of Alaska Native children ages 0-5 gathered to talk and learn about kindergarten preparedness. This unusual community engagement process happened through the generous support of the CITC Johnson-O’Malley Native Education Committee and The CIRI Foundation, activating parents around ARISE outcome 1. Over the course of 12 meetings, this group delved into hopes and concerns for their own children’s education, designed a research agenda and hosted meetings where representatives of local agencies answered their questions. Finally, they outlined a vision of what needs to happen in Anchorage to ensure that all Alaska Native children enter kindergarten prepared to succeed.
Building on this momentum, dynamic professionals from the early care and learning field in Anchorage have partnered with these parent experts to form the ARISE kindergarten preparedness strategic action team (SAT). The SAT will meld individual insights with local data and best practices to create a yearlong plan of action to positively impact Alaska Native children’s preparedness for kindergarten. Stay tuned for updates as this group charges forward. Organizations joining the parents on the SAT include: Anchorage School District, Best Beginnings, RurAL CAP, Southcentral Foundation, thread, Cook Inlet Native Head Start, and CITC.
Storytelling is an important part of human life and indigenous traditions. For ARISE, as a data-informed community effort, data is both completely necessary and often inadequate. Too often, the data available isn’t an accurate reflection of the daily experience of Alaska Native people. As data consultant Laurie Orell said to the kindergarten preparedness community engagement group one Saturday afternoon, “data is one part of the story.” To help fill in some of the rest of the story, ARISE conducted in-depth interviews with parents of young Alaska Native children and has invited parents, grandparents and caregivers into this work through community engagement, where their voices are heard and they drive the process.
To best discover the pieces of the story that data can tell, the ARISE data work group, which includes researchers and analysts from ASD, Southcentral Foundation and the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, meets to hash through data analysis, ensure rigor and present information so decisions can be made. In 2015 the data work group put in many hours in preparation for the launch of the school climate community engagement group, reviewing the literature, discussing definitions of school climate, identifying contributing factors, and prioritizing the factors that contribute to school climates that support Alaska Native student success. Taken together with what we learn directly from parents, this will help the community engagement group, and later the strategic action team, to see a more complete story.
At Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Inc. (CITC), the collective impact efforts that began with ARISE have taken root elsewhere in the organization. CITC has learned a lot through ARISE’s focus on school climates and kindergarten preparedness and now has new partners with whom to work and effect change.
Listening and responding to community needs, and aligning institutional efforts with its commitment to ARISE priorities has taken CITC in a new direction. In 2013, ARISE put the kindergarten preparedness outcome at the top of our list of priorities, and the process of exploring this outcome highlighted a shortage of care for our youngest community members. In a monumental new partnership, CITC is launching a new Early Head Start facility that will serve nearly 80 Alaska Native infants and toddlers. Through engagement with collective impact and ARISE, CITC is increasing high-quality early learning opportunities in Anchorage.
CITC has strengthened its focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) and school climate, both of which are ARISE outcomes, by renewing and expanding its Second Order Change project. Second Order Change was a project implemented in schools to help educators enhance the skills necessary to better support their students. The program has been reestablished for four more years in schools and out-of-school agencies. This work is conducted in partnership with the Anchorage School District and youth-serving organizations throughout Anchorage. Says Cristy Willer, CITC Chief Operating Officer, “Second Order Change, like ARISE, relies critically on community partnerships to make deep and lasting change. This is important work and no one group or agency can do it alone.”
Families of Alaska Native and American Indian children are the best experts about their kids. Bringing the power of parents to bear on ARISE goals has been a priority for ARISE in 2015. The newest of these efforts is the community engagement group focused on school climate.
ARISE staff, led by the community engagement manager, recruited and nurtured this group of committed parents and grandparents to learn more about school climate and its relationship to Alaska Native student success. This is one area where data proves puzzling and family expertise and inquiry may help crack the code on why Alaska Native students’ reported positive experience of school is not resulting in the expected boost in academics. The school climates group began meeting in September. In between meetings, ARISE staff contacts participants for a one-on-one conversations to further understand perspectives and to prepare for the next parent and grandparent-driven meeting. This process has enabled ARISE to reach hundreds of parents and grandparents.
In addition to the incredible work of these groups, ARISE partners are contributing to harnessing the power of parents. The ASD Title VII Indian Education Program’s community has connected almost 100 families to ARISE parent engagement efforts.
The ARISE roadmap is anchored around three core focus areas: academics, social and emotional well-being and culture. ARISE’s work considers student success in a holistic sense, and sees that Alaska Native and American Indian children and young people are more than students. A significant body of research indicates cultural connectedness and ethnic identity are crucial components of success for Native students and other minorities. It is important that they are nurtured to grow as members of cultural communities and that school environments see and support them as cultural beings. As critical as this is, it has proven challenging to identify measurable outcomes for this focus area.
ARISE partners are rising to the challenge. First Alaskans Institute (FAI) convened two gatherings to do a deep dive into this topic in Summer 2015. Committed participants (including ARISE partners, members of ARISE community engagement groups, and others) worked to advance the discussion and establish cultural outcomes and measures by which to benchmark them. FAI’s program, Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity (ANDORE) includes an educational equity component, so these related and complementary efforts are part of a broad conversation FAI is engaged in. In addition to hosting the cultural measures think tank, First Alaskans has been working with the Alaska Association of School Boards to integrate a set of questions to measure students cultural/ethnic identity into the AASB’s School Climate and Connectedness survey.
ARISE uses the term “cradle to community” because this movement is about more than academic and career achievement. The ARISE roadmap voices support for young people’s success from their very earliest days to becoming adults who are strong in both their sense of self, culture and community.