The Aboriginal Head Start Association of British Columbia (AHSABC) is a nonprofit society made up of the 12 urban Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) preschool sites in BC, all of which are members of the AHSABC.
AHSABC is a leader in Aboriginal Early Childhood Education. We provide support to AHS sites throughout the province to promote excellence in programming. We are dedicated to the development of Aboriginal children and their families, and we work in collaboration with other organizations and government to ensure consistent quality standards.
That happy, healthy, and safe children thrive.
That children’s families are their most influential teacher.
That Aboriginal children benefit from learning about their culture and language.
In respecting and honouring Aboriginal diversity, teachings and protocols.
That excellence and unity are achieved through open, respectful communication and collaboration
“What inspires me the most is watching some of our families that have had several children go through the program. I’ve been here 10 years now and we’ve seen several families that had 4-5 children that have gone through the program, I think watching the growth in the families and parents is probably the biggest inspiration for me, and knowing that you are making a difference in their lives.”
– Janice Silver, Program Coordinator, Future 4 Nations AHS
Aboriginal Head Start staff love their jobs. They repeatedly articulate sentiments of being “blessed” by being able to work at their Head Start centre with the children. When asked what keeps them at Aboriginal Head Start, staff members spoke of their love for their jobs, and often say they can’t imagine doing anything else because this is where they feel they belong. Furthermore, staff often note that their work is about much more than the job, it’s about making a difference to the children, their families, and the community.
For example, Janice Silver says,
“It’s a breath of fresh air to do what I love to do, and have people that are grateful for what they’re receiving who come and volunteer.”
“I don’t want to be anywhere else. I’ve worked in a couple of different of centres, and they’re all great… but I find this is where my heart is. I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to be here, and to help them grow and help their children learn and become their own individual people.”
– Leila Aubichon: Program Assistant, Prince George A
“To see the children succeed is amazing. To see their faces when they come in; their first day of school or just any day, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing thing that we can go through as educators, as First Nations, just to see the children come in and want to be here and know that we can make a difference and make an impact on their lives.”
– Zelda Williams: Manager & Early Childhood Educator, Future 4 Nations AHS
“(There is a) level of respect that is there for me as staff, for me as an educator… You’re valued as an ECE educator; you’re made to feel wanted, so you definitely want to stay.”
– Geeta Harpalani: Early Childhood Educator, Singing Frog AHS
“Our ancestors shared their wisdom through stories, which is why it is so important when our AHS Program Coordinators, Staff, Elders and Parents get together throughout the year, they share their program successes and challenges and learn from each other through their stories. Demonstrating and valuing our Oral Tradition is proving it to be alive and well and necessary for the ongoing growth of our AHS programs. We come together at least twice a year for our Annual General Meeting, Cultural Retreat and Strategic Planning, bringing together AHS program leaders, educators and parents to share, learn and grow.”
– Joan Gignac, Executive Director, AHSABC
The enthusiasm of Aboriginal Head Start staff is truly inspiring; their stories, their passion, and their dedication to the children. In addition, they also speak about their own personal benefits from being involved in the AHS Village.
“I do singing, dancing, we drum, we do stories and we do a little bit of language. And to make sure that I was enunciating properly, I ended up attending language classes once a week with a wonderful Elders group here in Campbell River. So I shared with the children that they make me want to learn also.”
– Gloria Roze: Elder, Qwallayuw AHS
“Prince George and Power of Friendship Aboriginal Head Start have had many special people that we’ve been lucky enough to call staff members come and go since 1996. They have all made an impact on our programs. There have been many happy moments, many tears of joy and sadness, but all worthwhile because we have worked for the children. The children are our future, and it warms your heart when each and every one of them remembers you years later, and hugs you and says, ‘You were my teacher.’ Children keep you young, make you smile, laugh and make you proud.”
– Jeannie Bourgeois: Former Staff, Prince George AHS & Power of Friendship AHS
“It makes me feel good at the end of the day to know that I’m trying my best to make a difference in a little child’s life because I know that I had a lot of teachers that made a difference in my life.”
– Annette Francis: Former Student, Future 4 Nations AHS
“Working as a parent volunteer, I became really attached to the Family Involvement Worker, Caroline Daniels, who I saw as my mentor... I started working as a First Nations Role Model in our public schools, thanks to the FIW who referred me.”
– Glenna Johnson: Family Involvement Worker & Former Parent, Kermode AHS
“Children in the program from about ten or 11 years ago wave at me and remember my name. Talk about a powerful experience to see them carrying their books and proceeding with their education. It’s empowering to see that growth... It’s taken me from being a lumberjack to a bit more sensitive to other people’s needs. After 11 years, I sure have grown personally and spiritually. So, thank you.”
– Randy Trelinski: Bus Driver, Comox Valley AHS
“Head Start helped me grow as a person, and I’m grateful for that. It’s empowerment of who I am. That’s helped me over the years…”
– Carolyn Reed: Senior ECE, Awahsuk AHS
“It has been a huge privilege and honour to work with the Aboriginal Head Start Association. This work had profound impact on me personally and professionally, in a good way. It affirmed my desire to contribute to the Early Years and to those who are helping raise up our future generations. It also was a catalyst for a deepened commitment to ensuring all of our children have the opportunity to participate in programming where culture and language are not an add on, but rather the heartbeat of the programming.”
– Monique Gray Smith, Former Executive Director, AHSABC
It is not uncommon to see family of staff members become involved at the sites, also volunteering their time and drawing inspiration from the children and the learning environment. For example, Ashley Cameron, sister to Awahsuk Program Coordinator Vanessa Hickman, got involved at that centre by accompanying Vanessa to work at class time and on field trips, helping out and eventually acquiring her ECE and Special Needs Certificates. Parents often stay involved after their children have graduated from the preschool. Many told stories of returning as volunteers, and eventually becoming part of the staff. They also spoke of how their connection to the program enriched their lives as much as their children’s lives.
“I worked as a waitress for 17 years and then went to the College, and now I’m an ECE Assistant at Little Moccasins, so it’s a big career change from what I was used to – and it changed my life.”
– Laura-Lee Marshall: Former Parent & ECE Assistant, Little Moccasins Learning Centre AHS
“I initially got involved with Head Start when I was doing foster care and I had two young Aboriginal children. MCFD actually asked me to get the boys involved with the Head Start and I said, “What’s Head Start?” So that’s where it started, and I loved Head Start right from day one. The first day I came through the doors, I felt like I belonged there. I started volunteering three days a week out of four at the Head Start because I just loved the feel of it, I loved everybody, they were so friendly and welcoming, I loved the music and the culture… And when my kids had outgrown the Head Start Program and had gone to school, I sat on the board at Laichwiltach just to keep myself involved. And then when they started the Family Networker job, I applied and I got it! That was eight years ago and I’m still here and I still love it. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
– Noreen Pollock: Family Networker, Qwallayuw AHS
“My time with Aboriginal Head Start began with my daughter’s enrolment in the preschool. During my mandatory parent volunteer time, I was encouraged to take the opportunity to work in the preschool and work toward obtaining my certification and licence to practice… I keep coming back, because of my desire to make a difference and the inspiration that I receive from others that I come in contact with.”
– Leona Antoine: Program Coordinator, Singing Frog AHS
Some parents and staff have become motivated to pursue education in the Early Childhood Development field themselves. At Prince George AHS, Cultural Teacher, Renata Heathcliff told of how going back to school and getting her Early Childhood Education certificate prior to working at Prince George AHS gave her a better understanding of children and their learning processes. Annette Francis, a recent Co-op Student at Future 4 Nations AHS in Mission, states that working at the preschool made a significant impact on her life and educational plans, prompting her to obtain her Family Daycare certificate and eventually her ECE, in hopes of working in AHS one day…“When I came here it was just amazing… I knew this is what I wanted to do; I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to make kids happy, help them have a safe place and give them some good memories. It’s all the building blocks of growing up and being an adult.”
“AHS played a huge role in my educational pursuits. I started as just being a one-to-one support staff and then the bus driver, and ECE. It’s nice that now if someone’s sick, if Jamie the bus driver is sick, it’s easy for me to just jump into the bus driver seat and then go back into the classroom. It’s nice that we can all support each other.”
– Susan Horton: Early Childhood Educator, Future 4 Nations AHS
Contact the AHSABA executive committee for more information.