In 2000, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) began offering coursework in early childhood education. After receiving approval from the Higher Learning Commission three years later, SIPI launched an Associate of Arts degree program in the field.
Unlike other such programs, SIPI employs distance learning to broadcast courses to local tribal communities throughout New Mexico such as Santo Domingo Pueblo, San Felipe Pueblo, and the Alamo Navajo reservation. Education students receive intensive advisement, regular mentorship, structured support to develop professional dispositions, and practicum placement. Moreover, the 68- credit hour A.A. degree offers two practicum experiences as part of the program of studies, including 60 hours of direct experience within infant/toddler, preschool, and K-3 classrooms.
More recently, SIPI has partnered with Youth Development Incorporated (YDI) to operate Head Start programming on campus. YDI Head Start serves as a lab school for those in the education program as well as a valuable resource for all SIPI students with children. YDI Head Start is recognized as a Head Start Center of Excellence and is fully accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. As such, YDI Head Start is a quality lab setting where students enjoy mentorship from exemplary early childhood teachers. Immersion in a quality practicum provides students with valuable education strategies.
In 2011, the American Indian College Fund awarded SIPI the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Tribal College Readiness by Third Grade Initiative. The award has enabled SIPI to enhance programming through innovative partnerships with YDI Head Start. As a result, SIPI has launched a community-based participatory research project that engages families in developing culturally responsive learning opportunities. The project illustrates how culturally responsive curriculum can be developed from parental input.
Early childhood education curriculum at SIPI continues to evolve by including co-curricular experiences that encourage students to participate in communitybased projects. Such projects instill the value of family and community engagement within early childhood education and are motivational for students in guiding their future goals, which often include developing Native language programs and culturally responsive curriculum within their respective tribal communities.