Bozho fellow Pokagon citizens,
My name is Elizabeth Michaelle Rinehart, and it is with great honor to accept the position of the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) site manager. Our tribe is embarking on an incredible journey that is sure to be rewarding. This is not to say that there won’t be any challenges, but I am up for those challenges, and I see them as opportunities for growth and learning. My own journey has groomed me to serve my people in a way that aligns with my passion of working with our greatest treasure, our children.
I would like to share a little bit about my journey that led me to where I am at today. In 2002, I was a mother of a two-year-old and a one-year-old. I wanted to be able to stay at home with them but could not afford to do so. I decided to open a daycare to generate income, while still spending time with my own children. As a childcare business, I was involved with the Early Head Start program, Michigan State and the 4C’s Food Program. I wrote a “Soup and Salad” grant for startup money for a garden so the kids could grow food to encourage healthier eating. I learned about scholarships available for providers to pursue an Associate’s degree in child development, and in 2004 I enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College, taking one or two night classes at a time. In 2007, two years prior to completing my program, my children became school age, so I decided to enter the workforce. After the classes I had already taken, I knew I was meant for early childhood education. A client of mine told me that Head Start for Kent County was hiring teachers, so I applied and became a full-time teacher while finishing my early childhood degree.
After a short break from college, I enrolled at Grand Valley State University for teaching. Working full-time and taking one to two classes at a time became cumbersome, so in 2012, I made a difficult decision to leave the profession to take classes full-time. Three years later, I graduated with a double major in English Language Arts and Education with a Teaching Certificate for elementary education. After another short break, I went back for a Master’s of Education, majoring in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on early childhood education (ZS endorsement). Shortly after starting classes, I accepted a teaching position at the Huron Potawatomi Head Start program in Grand Rapids. I worked full-time while completing my coursework.
Much of my studies and research focused on the American Indian narrative, including but not limited to identity formation, achievement gaps, and ways to incorporate culture into the classroom to improve student outcomes. I learned that healthy self-esteem and identity formation for Aanishinaabe people comes from knowledge about our culture and a sense of belonging to family and community. In addition, as an Aanishinaabe kwe and citizen of the Pokagon Band, I understand the importance of cultural revival to sustain the future seven generations and beyond. I made it a priority to include our culture in every aspect of the activities that I was planning on implementing into the classroom. In fact, the title of my capstone project is “Indigenizing Curriculum.”
When the opportunity to serve our tribe at the ECDC opened, I saw it as the perfect time to put my knowledge and experience to work for the benefit of our own people. I am excited to be a part of the new ECDC and the future of our people by focusing on our children. Our new program will be heavily influenced by our culture, yet inclusive of dominant culture’s school readiness expectations so that our children will be equipped to “walk in two worlds.” Our tribe’s commitment to embarking on this new endeavor is evidence of the value we place on our children. The youth of today are our leaders of tomorrow. I am excited to be a part of that journey.
Elizabeth Michaelle Rinehart