Dear Cook Inlet Native Head Start Community,
Aang aang, welcome to a new school year.
September 7, 2020
I hope that this message finds you and your family safe and in the best of health. The recent developments across the world and in Alaska, as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic, have created some unprecedented challenges for our community. I would like to say “Qagaasachxuzakuq (Thank you very much)” to our dear families, staff, partners and cherished children for your understanding, perseverance, and especially your patience during this period of disruption to the ways that we normally conduct our lives. We are living in a time of tremendous uncertainty, not unlike our ancestral villages 100 years ago during the Influenza Pandemic of 1917, also known as the Great Death. Influenza ravaged Alaska Native people and cultures. A time when many of our families and villages were eradicated from this earth. Yet, our ancestors who perished at that time and their experiences have not been erased from our collective memories. We must learn from our past.
Cook Inlet Native Head Start (CINHS) has been closed to onsite services. Our doors will remain shut, but we will continue striving to increase and improve services. Beginning in September, CINHS will resume serving children and families remotely. Service will be provided to our families and children through educational packets, online programming, distributing food and other approved supplies, and family advocacy. CINHS will continue to track COVID19 data and rates of infection from now through October. At that time, we will be able to determine if we can safely open our classrooms to in person learning. Our staff realizes that this is very different than in the past. We miss children and their parents. We are looking forward to the day when our classrooms and hallways are filled with the sound of children. In the meantime, instead of lamenting our loss, let’s focus on how we can do things better in this time of social distancing.
CINHS has been working diligently over the past few months on a mitigation plan that will help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in our facility. CINHS’ plan is not only based upon our historic experiences during the Great Death; additionally, it implements best practices in the prevention of viral spread. The most current science on COVID19 has been considered. CDC guidance was utilized as well as models outside of the United States that have shown positive results. Our plan has incorporated some procedures from Taiwan, a country with 24 million people but less than 10 deaths from COVID19. As a comparison, our country has a death rate from COVID19 that is 2,000 times higher than Taiwan. We can do more to protect our people. As science discovers more on this novel virus, our plan is likely to change as well. This plan will eventually allow CINHS to reopen to onsite services and classes once it is deemed safe based upon community spread and positivity rates.
At this time, all learning activities will be done remotely through both educational packets and online productions. It will be imperative that we form partnerships between our parents, teachers, and advocates in order for this alternative and temporary model of education to work for the child. Communication between the teacher and parent is essential. It will provide for an important transfer of information that your child’s teacher will need to document in order for your child to be placed on a continuum of learning. These activities are designed to build upon Kindergarten readiness, while at the same time creating a sense of pride and knowledge in Alaska Native cultures and languages.
Family Services will be contacting families on a regular basis to help assist with your urgent needs and issues. Additionally, CINHS’ staff will be contacting parents in order to update information on their child’s health and dental records. We have been approved to distribute meals for children; and will implement a “drive through” for both food and supplies.
Once it is determined that it is safe to open school to students, CINHS will begin the process of phasing in enrolled students based upon our detailed mitigation plan. Each enrolled family will be provided with a copy. The plan will be strictly adhered to as long as the threat of Coronavirus spread exists without a safe vaccine.
We believe we have done, and will continue to do, our very best to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We will reasonably expect all members of our community to do the same. We need to look at the responses of our villages to the 1917 pandemic, and the consequences to those reactions and preventative measures. Some were successful at protecting their communities from the spread of illness, while others were not. Our challenge and responsibility, not unlike our traditional villages, is to protect our loved ones and our community.
Neither CINHS nor any other school can guarantee immunity from COVID-19 while on site and in the classrooms. It would be disingenuous to try to convey a message like that. The fact is, we don’t know much about children and this disease. If our facility opens without a vaccine, families, staff and community partners must recognize and accept the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
I hope that this revised plan offers a way forward for our community of Head Start families and staff. Thank you for your partnership with all of us at CINHS. Please do not hesitate to call or write with any questions or concerns about our plan on moving forward.
Ukudigaasada (Be Safe/Be Healthy in Unangam Tunuu)
Ethan A. Petticrew
Executive Director, Cook Inlet Native Head Start