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Region Stories

These stories illustrate how early childhood programs and services funded by First Things First make a difference for young children and families in communities across Arizona.

Professional development helps Pascua Yaqui early childhood teachers build a learning foundation for their young students

As the Pascua Yaqui Tribe went into lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ili Uusim Mahtawa’apo Pascua Yaqui Head Start teachers Maria Wilson and Yvette Rodriguez were left wondering about the safety and future of the young children they teach. 

The Head Start teachers were sent home and forced to continue teaching their young students through online learning. Despite the obstacles these educators faced, Wilson and Rodriguez confronted each challenge with a positive attitude.  

“Last year, I didn’t have my usual classroom, but instead helped facilitate remote learning by editing videos recorded by teachers,” Rodriguez said. 

In Wilson’s case, she began to view these challenges as professional development opportunities. 

“I was able to strengthen my technology skills using Zoom and other video platforms, and we were able to deliver our early literacy curriculum using take-home activities and virtual lessons,” Maria Wilson said. 

The Ili Uusim Mahtawa’apo Pascua Yaqui Head Start teachers benefited from a professional development program that the First Things First Pascua Yaqui Tribe Regional Partnership Council funds.  

Great Expectations for Teachers, Children, Families and Communities is a professional development strategy that offers 17 communities of practices developed by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. Two of these communities are offered on the reservation: The Story Project Community of Practice and Inspire Inclusion Community of Practice.

For Inspire Inclusion, Easterseals Blake Foundation works with Ili Uusim Mahtawa’apo Pascua Yaqui Head Start teachers to increase their knowledge to support high-quality inclusive classrooms for young Pascua Yaqui children with special needs. And for the Story Project, Make Way for Books works with the teachers to increase their knowledge and skills in order to promote emergent literacy and language in Pascua Yaqui children.

Joseph Swartz, a lead teacher at Ili Uusim Mahtawa’apo Head Start, attended professional development sessions for both communities of practice, as well as a course in leadership training for early childhood programs. 

“It has given me a clear understanding of developmental and professional standards within the field,” Joseph Swartz said.

He said he plans to use these new tools and skills to offer families of the young children he teaches with the best support possible. 

The skills acquired have inspired the teachers to incorporate their new knowledge and share the importance of early childhood education and development with the families they serve. 

“We, as teachers, are building the foundation of young children’s learning experiences,” said Head Start teacher Maria Louisa Vega. “Our role in their education is crucial because we are teaching them the stepping stones. It’s their first experience, and we are here to help them fall in love with learning.”

Melissa Rosicano is a community outreach coordinator in the FTF Pascua Yaqui Tribe Region and the FTF Tohono O'odham Region. You can reach her at mrosciano@firstthingsfirst.org​​.​

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