NWIC Highlight: Student determined to teach Native youth

Alisha Sellars, Shuswap/Secwepemc from British Columbia, is 21 years old, a mother of a 2-year-old son, works full time, and is a full-time Northwest Indian College (NWIC) student working toward becoming an elementary or early-education teacher.

“I’m hoping to teach in Native communities because, growing up, I only saw one Native teacher,” Sellars said. “I think it’s important for Native teachers to teach Native children because they share a sense of culture and have an extra connection to the kids and I think that extra connection helps the kids.”

Sellars’ goal to teach in Native communities has been fueled in large part by her work at NWIC’s Early Learning Center (ELC), a daycare and school on the college’s main campus on the Lummi Reservation.

Since Sellars started at NWIC, her goal of becoming a teacher has started to become a reality. She started working part time at the college’s Early Learning Center in April 2012 and in January 2013, was hired to work full time at the center.

Sellars, who grew up in part in Canada and on the Lummi Reservation, said she has always known she wanted to attend college. Her parents, who are college graduates, always encouraged her to pursue higher education.

“I knew I had to go to school to better myself and for my family,” Sellars said. “And I knew I needed to go for my son – to give him a better life through education.”

Still, even with all of her ambition, Sellars’ first stab at college didn’t feel right to her. She attended a non-Tribal college, and said she just felt like a number.

“I just didn’t feel like I fit in very well,” Sellars said. “After finishing the quarter there, I decided to come to NWIC and I knew instantly that this was where I was supposed to be. I felt like I belonged. I don’t feel like a number here.”

During Sellars’ first two quarters at NWIC, she needed to bring her son to class, and she said her instructors were very understanding and accepting of both of them.

“I feel like I have made a lot of family at NWIC,” Sellars said.

She said one instructor, Alex Prue, even felt like a grandpa to her.

Through her work at the ELC, Alisha became involved with the Sacred Little Ones Project, which she said has changed her perspective on early learning.

“I love the Sacred Little Ones Project,” Sellars said. “Every time I go to a Sacred Little Ones gathering, it reminds me of why I want to pursue education.”

The Sacred Little Ones Project, known also as Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Development Initiative, is supported by a $5 million grant award by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the American Indian College Fund to establish four early childhood development centers located at tribal colleges and universities and serving Native children. NWIC is one of those locations.

The purpose of the project is to improve young Native students’ skill acquisition; prepare them for grades K-12 and post-secondary education; improve the quality of early childhood teachers in Native communities through partnership opportunities with post-secondary teacher training programs at the tribal colleges; bridge early childhood and K-3 education; integrate Native language and culture into early childhood curriculum; and empower Native families and communities as change agents in education for their children.

“The project has opened so many doors,” Sellars said. “I’ve met a lot of amazing people through the project that I could see myself working with in the future. They are all inspirations for me to keep working hard toward my goals.”

Sellars is currently working toward her direct transfer associate degree at NWIC. After NWIC, she plans to continue her education and “do whatever it takes to become a teacher.”