New Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative Will Elevate Culturally Relevant Research Grounded in Native Communities

headshot of Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz

Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC), located at Boston Children’s Hospital, is partnering with First Light Education Project, a Native-owned consulting initiative, to lead a national Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC) that will facilitate locally driven, community-based inquiry that is led by Native communities in order to advance high-quality early care and learning opportunities for Native children and families.

The IELC will use a process of research/inquiry that is driven by parents, teachers, centers, and community, prioritizing Indigenous knowledge and frameworks. The Collaborative will

  • address systemic barriers that currently impede Native/Indigenous communities from designing high-quality, culture- and language-rich, early childhood development programming for Native children, families, and communities;
  •  rely on Indigenous research and knowledge generation as a foundational component toward achieving racial equity in early learning and care systems; and
  •  lead to stronger early learning interventions and opportunities for Native children and families by advancing family and community engagement in designing culturally-grounded early childhood development systems, interventions, and knowledge.

“Native communities have the ability to identify areas of strength, need, and challenge in their systems of early care and learning,” said Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and Founder and Principal Consultant at First Light Education Project, who will lead the project. “However, Native communities often don’t have the resources or knowledge about inquiry and research to study the issues, analyze evidence, and create their own long-term sustainable solutions. The Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative will solve this gap in knowledge and resources by providing training and support in community-centered, place-based inquiry to urban, suburban, and rural Native communities seeking to achieve equitable and vibrant communities.”

The project is funded by a two-year, $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich.

When local communities define and investigate their own questions related to their community strengths and needs, they develop culturally appropriate solutions that are more likely to be sustainable. The Collaborative will strengthen capacity in Native communities to

  1. define their own questions;
  2. conduct their own community-centered, place-based inquiry and research;
  3. design and implement their own evidence-based solutions to create more sustainably equitable and healthy communities;
  4. sustain this work beyond the initial training and work;
  5. develop the tools to engage larger efforts; and
  6. leverage success to access financial and material resources.

“Research impacting Native communities comes predominantly from outside of Native communities. This pattern feeds the perception that Native communities do not have research expertise and cannot find answers to their own problems, leading to the creation of research that is built on other people’s questions,” Dr. Yazzie-Mintz said. “The Collaborative aims to reverse the traditional process of outsiders doing research on Native communities by moving the origins and center of inquiry into Native communities. Native communities will be trained to be early learning research experts, defining the inquiry questions and issues, planning and conducting inquiry, and turning inquiry into action within their communities.”

The Collaborative will initially work with four Indigenous-led partners who are being trained in community-based inquiry techniques and in the Brazelton Touchpoints approach to strengths-based family engagement. The Touchpoints Approach has proven uniquely effective in bringing together diverse Native communities to find common ground and a shared set of principles for working with children and families, and strengthening the systems that serve them. Following training, each partner will identify and implement an inquiry related to their vision of high-quality, culturally-grounded systems of care and learning for their community. Partner selection prioritized communities that typically do not benefit from major Federal early childhood funding. In the future, the IELC plans to expand and disseminate its learning to more Native sites and communities.

The Collaborative builds on the collective strengths of BTC and First Light Education Project, drawing on both organizations’ expertise and shared commitment to Native early childhood development and education. For 20 years, BTC has been creating opportunities for learning and growth with Indigenous and Native communities through collaborative, strengths-based, culturally-affirming approaches and long-standing and trusting partnerships with Tribal and Native early learning centers, health care agencies, and Tribal Colleges and Universities.

In leading the IELC at BTC, Dr. Yazzie-Mintz brings more than 25 years of experience working within the field of Native education, teacher education, and community-based research to her role as Project Director. Yazzie-Mintz has worked with more than 30 Tribal communities, successfully contributing to direct training, community-based inquiry, and programming at local, Tribal, state, regional, and national levels. She earned a doctorate in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and serves on national committees and foundation boards, contributing to the broad knowledge of local to national systems impacting Native early childhood development and education.

About the Brazelton Touchpoints Center
The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) was founded in 1996 by world-renowned pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, MD, and colleagues and is based in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. Together with families, providers, and communities, BTC develops and applies knowledge of early childhood development to practice and policy through professional and leadership development, organizational learning and change, research and evaluation, advocacy and awareness, and serving as a resource for proven practices. BTC is home to the Touchpoints Approach, the Brazelton Institute (Newborn Behavioral Observations and Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale), Family Connections, and the BTC Research and Evaluation team. For more information, visit www.brazeltontouchpoints.org

About the First Light Education Project, LLC
Guided by the principle, “Starting with What Works,” First Light Education Project, LLC, is a consulting and collaborative initiative providing leadership on projects of practice and inquiry in community and educational contexts. The company’s two founders and principals, Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné) and Dr. Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, bring extensive expertise and experience working with and within communities, Tribal nations and Indigenous communities, K–12 schools, non-profit organizations and foundations, and higher education institutions across a variety of social, political, and educational domains. Conceptually grounded in the idea that education is a fountain of enormous possibility and immense potential from prenatal development and continuing through adulthood, First Light Education Project uses a strengths-based and question-driven approach to create relationships, processes, and knowledge that lead to collective, transformative outcomes. For more information, visit www.firstlighteducationproject.org

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special attention is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org

BTC’s Mindy May Honored for Her Innovative Contributions to Professional Development

headshot of Mindy May

Mindy May, MS

We are thrilled to announce that Mindy May, Brazelton Touchpoint Center’s Director of Partnership and Professional Development, has been awarded the 2020 Allen C. Crocker Award for Clinical Excellence and Advocacy in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH).

Like BTC founder Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Crocker was a pioneer in the field of developmental behavioral pediatrics. He was a fierce advocate for children with disabilities, particularly those with Down syndrome. The Crocker Award is given each year to a BCH faculty or staff member who has made exemplary contributions in the areas of policy, advocacy, clinical care, and/or program development.

Mindy was nominated for the award by Dr. Dewana Thompson, BTC’s Program Manager for Professional and Resource Development. In her presentation of the award, Dewana read the following remarks:

“This award screams Mindy May! Mindy has worked tirelessly at the Brazelton Touchpoint Center and has demonstrated over the years her ability to develop new programs and to think outside the box regarding our trainings and program development that impact children and families. She instinctively knows what the field needs and how to think broadly about how to deliver it. These qualities are true of Mindy on the best of days and now I have seen that they are also true on the worst of days.

On March 9th, when the world shut down due to Covid-19 and our trainings and in-person professional development opportunities stopped, there was great uncertainty, ambivalence, and a lot of fear. And then on May 25th when our world stopped again after witnessing the murder of George Floyd, there was even more uncertainty, ambivalence, and lot of fear and anger. During this time when we couldn’t breathe, Mindy brought the team along, encouraged each of us, cried with us, held our concerns and fears and even our anger. She was willing to have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations about race. She was one of the first of my friends to call me and ask me if I was okay, knowing I’m raising two brown boys in this world. Mindy is always holding others. At the same time, she was able to help us all to shift to a place of seeing the opportunities in the midst of these very dark times. She is the most optimistic person I know, always seeing the glass as half full. During these times, she started seeing the glass as half empty, but she was always able to see the glass as refillable. That’s hope.

She helped everyone pivot and think broadly about the needs of the communities we serve related to Covid. She brainstormed ideas, led discussions, and most of all listened.

Out of these dark times came some of the most creative work. I am sure that I will miss many of the offerings that Mindy has helped lead, but I would like to name a few:

  • She helped us shift our 3-day face-to-face Touchpoints trainings to online formats that include both asynchronous (at you own pace) and synchronous (live interactive) sessions as well as video recordings
  • She helped bring over the finish line our First 5 California Online Professional Development Project for California’s 200,000 child care providers
  • She helped develop our Virtual Service Delivery and Strengths-Based Family Engagement webinar series that are now offered in both English and Spanish and reaching thousands of providers in the field
  • She is helping to shift our in-person training on child behaviors that adults find challenging to an online format that now, given racial disparities in pre-school suspension and expulsion, includes a module specifically dedicated to culture and race
  • She is supporting the shift of many of our offerings to include cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity components along with the impact of implicit bias and inequities based on race
  • She is helping us to expand our National Training Team to include more diverse trainers and members

One good indicator of the success of our programs is attendance. We repeatedly have upwards of two to three thousand attendees on many of our webinars, which I think is a testament to the quality, but also to the leaders behind the work.

There is one last thing that I want to mention that makes Mindy stand out and apart from many others, and that is Mindy’s natural ability to lead. Mindy is the type of leader who isn’t afraid to bring people to the table to inform the work. If she doesn’t know something, she is the first to say so and then bring people into the conversation who do. She thinks about systems in a way that helps to grow our program from the roots all the way to the petals. And lastly she has a heart for the populations we serve and constantly brings their voices into the room. She thinks about how our work will impact children and families, which is what Dr. Crocker did.

Perhaps the most admirable quality about her leadership is that she is often the mastermind for many of our amazing programs and ideas or helps to implement the ideas when she has listened to the need. But she is always the first to celebrate her team who does the execution and to turn the spotlight away from herself and shine it on them. This award gives us the perfect opportunity to turn the spotlight back on Mindy and let her contributions shine.

One of our guiding Touchpoints Principles is ‘Value disorganization and vulnerability as an opportunity.’ Mindy has done this time and time again and demonstrated her ability to turn disorganization into many wonderfully innovative programing opportunities. For all of these reasons (and so many more), and all of your work on behalf of children and families, I am thrilled to present her with the Crocker Award.”

Supporting Young Children, Families, and the Early Childhood Workforce during COVID-19

Jayne Singer head shot

Jayne Singer, PhD, IECMH-E®

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center recently collaborated with Boston Children’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care on a webinar that explored early childhood development, mental health, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children, families, and the early care and education workforce. 

Jayne Singer, PhD, IECMH-E®—BTC’s Director of Developmental and Relational Health and a clinical psychologist in the hospital’s Division of Developmental Medicin—was a featured speaker. Other speakers included:

  • Sandra Fenwick, Chief Executive Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care
  • Faye Holder-Niles, MD, MPH, Pediatrician, Children’s Hospital Primary Care Center; Medical Director of Community Primary Care, Office of Community Health
  • Francia Dejesus, Director of the Family Child Care Network, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation
  • Anat Weisenfreund, MS, Director of Head Start & Early Learning Programs, Community Action Pioneer Valley

View the webinar recording: COVID-19: Supporting Young Children, Families, and the EEC Workforce

Access additional resources:

New Webinar Series and Learning Community Focuses on Virtual Connections

Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC), in partnership with the Rapid Response Virtual Home Visiting Collaborative, has launched a webinar series and online learning community that explore the challenges and opportunities family-facing professionals navigate when working with young children and families virtually.

“When the coronavirus pandemic began, family-facing providers in every sector—from early childhood educators to pediatricians to those who work in child welfare—had to quickly pivot to providing services virtually,” said Dr. Joshua Sparrow, BTC’s executive director. “For family-facing professionals accustomed to meeting in classrooms, offices, or homes, switching to text messaging, phone calls, and video-conferencing on mobile phone and tablets has proven challenging, yet has led to some surprising discoveries.”

The webinars build on lessons learned from virtual home visiting programs that began serving families virtually prior to the pandemic, and are offered in three series of six webinars each, beginning July 2020 and running through early 2021. To ensure the webinars meet the fast-moving needs of these field—particularly as states begin to open schools, pediatric offices, and child care centers—the project will employ rapid-cycle testing to inform the design and content of future webinars.

An online learning community, facilitated by BTC trainers and faculty, will include resources, chats, and other supports to help family-facing providers apply the skills they learn in the webinar series. Participation is free and open to everyone, thanks in part to funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Overdeck Family Foundation.

BTC’s training and support will position family-facing professionals with the assets and skill sets to provide programming that lends itself to virtual delivery, even after the current crisis abates, resulting in more equitable access to those services for the many families who are not currently served due to geographic and transportation barriers as well as limited publicly funded slots and the higher costs of in-person service delivery.

To ensure the training is accessible to Spanish-speaking providers, each webinar offers live Spanish translation. The online learning community also provides Spanish translation of all content. Additionally, the webinars offer closed-captioning to interested participants.

“Families, children, and providers across the country are facing unprecedented stressors,” Sparrow said. “This project offers providers an opportunity to learn new skills, share strategies with one another, and strengthen the virtual supports they can provide to young children and families at this challenging time, while highlighting the urgent need to bridge the digital divide with equitable access for all.”

Learn more.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special attention is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org

About the Overdeck Family Foundation
Overdeck Family Foundation was founded in 2011 by John and Laura Overdeck with the goal of providing all children the opportunity to unlock their potential. The Foundation focuses exclusively on education, funding organizations that seek to open doors for every child in the U.S. by measurably enhancing education both inside and outside the classroom.

The Foundation believes that, in order to succeed, children need access to strong foundations for early learning, exceptional educators, innovative schools, and engaging out-of-school opportunities. It supports organizations and researchers that work toward these goals, helping early-stage initiatives develop and validate their programs and scaling evidence-based growth-stage organizations looking to achieve greater impact. For more information, visit www.overdeck.org