Tribal ECEAP During COVID-19: Tulalip Tribes

March 15, 2021
teacher with puppets
Tribal ECEAP During COVID-19

Washington Tribal Nations are comprised of strong communities rooted in family, culture, and tradition. Like others, the COVID-19 pandemic and Washington State’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order had huge impacts on tribal communities. For tribes, this included interrupted community gatherings, cultural activities, religious practices, and early learning services.

Safety precautions are tremendously important in tribal communities because tribal people are statistically at higher risk of illness and death with and without the impacts of COVID-19. Children in tribal communities frequently interact and connect with elders, creating a greater risk to these vulnerable community members. Disproportionately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research indicates that American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people are among the racial and ethnic minority groups at highest risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. They link this to persistent racial inequity, historical trauma, and interconnected services.

In the 2019-20 school year, 10 tribes in Washington provided Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) in their communities. Tribal ECEAP programming provided children and families with health services, family support, and education, along with other supports that meet the needs of each tribe such as culture and tribal language. Teaching young children traditional ways of life is an important part of building strong tribal communities. 

When tribal health departments instructed tribal ECEAP sites to suspend in-person services to protect children and their communities, tribal ECEAP quickly moved to provide modified services for children and families. Tribal ECEAP sites used a variety of creative ways to provide culturally-responsive modified services to ensure children continued receiving education and families continued to receive support services. Tribal ECEAP also worked with families to ensure they could meet basic needs and that isolation was minimized. Perhaps most importantly, tribal ECEAP worked with families to stay connected to culture and community during the pandemic to reduce isolation.

Tulalip Tribes

At the Tulalip Tribes Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy, staff were at first unsure about how to transition to remote learning while continuing to meet standards, but they quickly found ways to share fun and educational activities to continue serving families. They did this by maintaining regular contact with all ECEAP families through virtual conferences and home visits. Staff individualized to meet family needs by contacting them via phone, email, or video chat.

Families received individualized packets at least every two weeks with Lushootseed language, math, science, physical, and social/emotional activities. ECEAP staff also held virtual small group class sessions in real-time via Zoom to maintain relationships with teachers and peers. The program created a Tulalip ECEAP YouTube channel where teaching staff uploaded videos on science, singing, story time, and other activities.

Tulalip YouTube Channel
Teachers Stephanie, Jeniffer, and Julie doing activities for students on the Tulalip ECEAP YouTube channel

These videos offer engaging interactive activities that support families to guide their child’s learning. They use ordinary household items that do not require additional planning or preparation outside of the project, and families can participate on their own schedule. Many of the activities created can be done multiple times and encourage extension of learning using the family’s own creative strengths and interests.

Children and families also have access to Second Step social-emotional learning lessons. The Tulalip Lushootseed teachers upload daily videos on the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy Facebook page. Parents report that the children love the songs and stories in the language.

In an effort to smooth the transition to kindergarten, Tulalip ECEAP staff dropped off kindergarten registration packets to families and delivered the completed packets to the school district. The early learning program also partnered with the local food bank for food pick-up at the center.

Tulalip ECEAP continues to provide essential services during the pandemic by engaging families, extending learning opportunities, and using their considerable skills and creativity to bring stability, learning, and fun to the ECEAP community.