Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Photo by Sarah Radmer
Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Photo by Sarah Radmer

Daybreak Star will once again have a preschool at the Native cultural center.

It is partnering with the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) to have a Washington Department of Early Learning-licensed ECEAP (Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program) preschool.

Daybreak Star (3801 W. Government Way) and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF) lost their Head Start program in 2013, after 27 years, and had hoped to get a preschool back ever since.

Family Services director and interim operations director Lynnette Jordan and her co-workers were jumping up and down when they got the news. Not only were they excited to have the preschool back, but they were thrilled to be able to help Native children and families.

“We were ecstatic,” Jordan said. “We’re so excited to provide this much-needed service, [and] we are so grateful that we can play a role in helping.” 

PSESD applied for expansion funding through the Early Learning department. With that money, they were able to expand their existing programs and start new preschool programs, including one at Daybreak Star, Jordan said. There had been long-term conversations between PSESD and a UIATF board member Fern Renville, so when the opportunity came, Daybreak Star was selected.

PSESD serves 4,000 preschoolers throughout King and Pierce counties by providing either direct services or working with existing agencies to offer support and infrastructure. PSESD communications director Peter Daniels said the agency is excited about its partnership with Daybreak Star, using the new federal grant it was awarded.

Daybreak Star will be an ECEAP subcontractor, so PSESD will provide services such as training and infrastructure, and things like grants and audits will go through the PSESD office.

“We want to be sure to share the wealth and share the resources by working with different ethnic and cultural groups and different parts of the city,” he said.

PSESD has a Native department within its organization and does have some Native preschools in Pierce County, but Daniels said his agency is excited to offer something to the Seattle area.

Much work to be done

Jordan and the UIATF staff hope to get the preschool up and running by January 2015. For that to work, a lot needs to happen: The contract must be negotiated and confirmed, it needs to get licensed by the Department of Early Learning, the budget must be worked out and staff must be hired and trained before students are recruited.

There will be 40 students at the preschool, all about age 4. Classes will be held four days a week, for 6 1/2 hours each day. Fridays will likely be the students’ day off, giving staff a dedicated paperwork and training day.

Daybreak Star went with this model because the funding stream was a little higher, Jordan said, and it helps support Native families. A half-day preschool is more difficult for parents who work.

The school will be available to the Native community, which has many youngsters not enrolled in preschool, but it will be open to all students, Jordan said.

The announcement about the preschool is relatively new, so staff members are still working out what the preschool will look like. Jordan does want the preschool to have a Native focus, taught by Native teachers.

Jordan hopes the preschool will be a seamless transition point for children in the Ina Maka family program. That program pushes parents to become their children’s first educators, recognize milestones and encourage and teach their children. She hopes the children will be able to enter preschool and get the same emphasis on school readiness and family support.

Native children are notoriously behind in Seattle Public Schools: 40 percent of Native high schoolers graduated on time in Seattle — that’s Seattle Public Schools’ largest achievement gap. This early childhood development program will better prepare children for school.

“More importantly, parents might have a better idea of the services available to support their children,” Jordan said.

Recently, the Native community from Daybreak Star has spoken out against the King County Metro Transit cuts that would affect Magnolia; specifically, service on route No. 33, which serves Daybreak Star. Daybreak Star does have access to buses that could transport the children — “the challenge is how to fund that effectively and serve a wider area of families,” Jordan said. Daybreak Star is working with PSESD to make sure as many families have transportation access as possible.

PSESD knew about how Daybreak Star had lost its own Headstart program. But the UIATF staff was proactive about reaching out to PSESD and letting the agency know it wanted to partner, Daniels said.

When that Headstart program closed, it was assumed families would go to other preschools, but they didn’t seem to.

“It seems families were most comfortable and felt most supported in their Native cultural setting,” he said. That’s why, he said, his agency is thrilled to help Daybreak Star provide those services again.

“We can provide a lot of the infrastructure that, for some of the smaller providers, can be a challenge,” he said. “We’re able to…really take those pieces off the subcontractors so they can focus on the heart of the programs: working with the children and families.”

PSESD will help Daybreak Star with some of those infrastructure models that it struggled with before, and PSESD has something to learn from Daybreak Star, too, Daniels said.

“I think it’s an exciting partnership where we can provide some of those support pieces, but we can also learn from their expertise in working with our Native American students,” he said.

No powwow this year

Things at Daybreak Star in general are looking up, as well. Daybreak Star was $318,000 in debt last fall and facing closure. It has since raised $31,000 via an Indiegogo campaign and received a $150,000 donation from the Snoqualmie Tribe, along with other donations.

Jordan’s duties as interim operations director haven’t changed her workload much; she’s just been helping support staff after executive director Minty Longearth left in January.

“There’s a really strong team here,” Jordan said. “We have reduced our debt. We’re on track that way.”

Daybreak Star recently received a $25,000 donation from the Puyallup Tribe. It’s using that money to support their youth home, elders program and the center itself.

Despite the progress, UIATF decided to cancel its annual Seafair Powwow. Jordan said the struggles with debt and push to be fiscally responsible spurred that decision. Putting on the powwow is a great privilege that the UIATF community takes pride in, she said, but it needs to be done in a responsible manner. Canceling the 2014 powwow gives UIATF the opportunity to “strategize to put on an amazing powwow in 2015,” she said.

For now, UIATF is focused on maintaining stability. That includes finding revenue streams to support existing programs and planning for future money-making ventures, like an art gallery or gift shop at Daybreak Star.

“We have a lot of positive plans,” she said. “We can do it — we just need time.”

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