BARAGA – A new Keweenaw Bay Indian Community program beginning this month will be sending health workers into homes to help toddlers and their families check up on developmental benchmarks and prepare for their first years of school.
According to Heather Wood-Paquet, health promotions specialist with the KBIC Department of Health and Human Services, the Family Spirit program will begin by focusing on the needs of children from 18 months to 3 years old, and next year will implement curriculum to also meet the needs of 3- to 5-year-olds. She said it will complement the tribe’s existing Healthy Start program, which helps families meet prenatal and infant needs.
“Healthy start focuses a lot on health care, like making doctor’s appointments,” she said. “But Family Spirit is really focused on family communication and education preparedness, so our programs are becoming more well rounded.”
She said the program offers parents ideas for activities they can do with their children to build language and conversation skills, continues health care tracking, and assesses physical and cognitive developmental milestones, to determine whether children are on track or may need help.
“The more likely we are to get help in certain areas, the more likely we are to succeed later in life,” she said.
Wood-Paquet said the Family Start curriculum was originally developed for Western U.S. tribes with research and evaluation help from Johns Hopkins University, and incorporates native culture into the curriculum.
Native curricula with a research-proven record can be hard to find, said KBIC DHHS Community Health Director Kathy Mayo, which gave Family Spirit a leg up over other programs considered.
“This was evidence based among native communities, and there weren’t really many out there that were,” Mayo said, adding that “the more you can incorporate the culture of any community, the better [the program is] received in the community. With native culture, people have grown up with the medicine wheel and certain values, and those are in the curriculum in subtle ways that they can relate to.”
Wood-Paquet said the curriculum also has enough built-in flexibility to allow for Ojibwa-specific adjustments.
“Hopkins realized that not all native populations are the same,” she said. “Teachings here are different from something that’s Navajo, so we can make changes relatable to our native population.”
Also, Wood-Paquet said, all of the educators going into homes are members of the KBIC community, which should further help families relate to the curriculum.
KBIC’s Family Spirit will also supplement a component that doesn’t play as large a role as they’d like in the basic curriculum – reading.
“We’re trying to work with the library, handing out books and encouraging toddlers to work on reading,” Wood-Paquet said.
Wood-Pauquet said the Family Spirit curriculum was chosen by the Michigan Intertribal Council, which then applied for a federal grant that’s paying for the program.
Mayo said working through the Intertribal Council gives the KBIC the opportunity to participate in large-scale projects they wouldn’t have the resources to handle themselves, while keeping some freedom in implementation.
“We’re probably going to do our program just a tad differently than Bay Mills or the Sault Tribe,” she said. “It’s nice we can help plan and implement and let other tribes know what works in our community.”