In a different take on language immersion, a dozen babies and toddlers in Barrow are learning Iñupiaq as a primary language, along with English. Until now, Iñupiaq has been taught only as a second language to older children.
Birth to three is a critical time for language development. Miqłiqsiqivik (“A Place Where Children Are Cared For”) takes the approach that babies and young children can develop two primary languages simultaneously, explained Anna Mekki, program administrator and ECE lead teacher.
Miqłiqsiqivik is affiliated with the North Slope Borough School District. It opened in September with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to reintroduce Iñupiaq as a primary language. The youngest Iñupiaq speaker in Barrow is around 46 years old, according to Ms. Mekki. The children participating in Miqłiqsiqivik will be better able to communicate with their grandparents.
The program uses team-teaching, with a full time Iñupiaq teacher, two part-time Iñupiaq culture experts, a paraprofessional, and Mekki, the lead teacher.
“We have integrated the Iñupiaq language skills, atchagat (alphabet), colors, and numbers. We speak as much Iñupiaq as possible,” Ms. Mekki said. “We use The Creative Curriculum for our teaching, based on natural play and creativity. We also make sure that the infants have floor time to explore and ‘get mobile’ to promote motor development.”
Music is an ever-present feature, especially for the babies. Ms. Mekki said, “We play a lot of classical music. I believe it helps stimulate brain neurons to increase higher order spatial skills and complex intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, mathematics, and IQ.”
Program leaders had hoped to serve teen mothers, to make it easier for them to stay in school. However, Ms. Mekki said there were no takers. The second priority was for children whose parents attend Ilisagvik College, followed by single mothers and families with high need for child care. As it turns out, most of the children in Miqłiqsiqivik are in families for whom the lack of child care has been a barrier to employment.
The Native Village of Barrow paid for most of the cost through a child care assistance program, but those funds ran out, so parents are now applying to the state for assistance, Ms. Mekki said.