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Shinnecock-Harvard Partnership to Benefit Early Childhood Learning

The Shinnecock Indian Nation and Harvard University have joined hands in an educational partnership to develop and implement an early childhood program and curriculum based on the nation’s cultural values and traditions.

The program will be ready to implement well before the nation’s new Early Learning/Daycare Center building will be completed in 2012.

The Shinnecock-Harvard partnership involves the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP), whose mission is to bring together Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students and other interested individuals from the Harvard community to advance the well-being of indigenous peoples through self-determination, academic achievement and community service.

As part of its mission HUNAP funds the Native Americans in the 21Century: Nation Building II graduate course offered through the Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School of Education.

The Shinnecock Nation has been busily building its nation since becoming the 565th federally acknowledged Indian tribe last October. The tribe sought to become involved with HUNAP and Nations Building II in order to create a first rate early educational program tied to the nation’s traditions, according to a statement issued by the tribe.

The Nation Building II course is field-based research that focuses on some of the major issues American Indian tribes and nations face at the beginning of the 21st century, providing students with hands-on exposure to Native development issues, including: sovereignty, economic development, constitutional reform, leadership, health and social welfare, land and water rights, culture and language, religious freedom, and education.

The Shinnecock Nation’s Early Learning Daycare Center project will become a field based research site that benefits Shinnecock as well as the Harvard participants who are graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in the course. The lead faculty member for Nation Building II is Professor Dennis Norman, Harvard Medical School and faculty chair of HUNAP. The students working with the nation will be under the supervision of advisor Dr. Manley A. Begay Jr., Navajo, director of Native Nations Institute and co-director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Two Harvard graduate students, Haley Tuttle and Nitana Hicks, who is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, will spend time at Shinnecock this month and as needed doing research on tribal values and characteristics that will be integrated into the pre-school program, said Lauryn Randall, a Shinnecock educator and project coordinator for the Early Learning Center project, who is also overseeing the HUNAP graduate students' work on the reservation.

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“They’ll help us design and implement an early childhood curriculum and delivery method that will be based on Shinnecock cultural mores. We’ll be asked questions like what are the cognitive, physical, emotional and spiritual features of a Shinnecock person and how can these be addressed and reinforced in the early educational setting,” Randall said. “The graduate students will interview tribal members and especially tribal elders and get an idea about what Shinnecock people perceive as important for little Shinnecocks to know to develop a strong Shinnecock identity and a really positive self image, which is really a prerequisite for being confident and becoming a lifelong learner.”

Shinnecock Trustee Chairman Randy King said the success of the project at Shinnecock will strengthen the nation's efforts to foster the prerequisites needed for academic achievement.

“I view this as a great opportunity for our children,” King said.

The nation’s new from-the-ground-up Early Learning/Daycare Center is being built with a $600,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and some funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“We’re hoping to open the doors in late 2012. We’re hoping that’s not too ambitious,” Randall said. The center will serve 60 pre-school students.

Shinnecock Nation Communications Director Beverly Jenson said the new project will widen the lives of Shinnecock youth.

“While the curriculum will include our Shinnecock values and traditions that we want passed on to our children through the education system, I’m sure it will teach our children how to get along and how the rest of the world lives. You want to be able to live in many worlds,” Jensen said.

Over the last seven years, more than 80 Nation Building II Projects have been undertaken on behalf of tribes and tribal organizations.