It’s hard for some Arizonans to imagine. But there are communities all over the state where families can’t get internet, or even reliable phone service. Most of us can’t picture going through life without that, but for many, it’s a daily reality. Driving to the top of a hill to get cell service; hour-long bus rides to get to school; roads that are virtually unpassable in the winter. And for those on tribal communities the challenges might be even more basic – many households lack running water or electricity, or both.
As you cast your ballot this year, keep them in mind. These are some of our most vulnerable populations and they need the support and resources that both government and nonprofit groups provide.
Whatever your concerns are, they can be reflected in your vote. For rural communities in Arizona, there are resources and support, but at times, the resources available aren’t always reflective of the community’s immediate needs. During the pandemic, as teachers often do, many teachers continue to use their personal devices and other self-purchased tools to make it through this year.
Many school districts have made great strides in distributing internet-enabled devices and hot spots, but even those aren’t solutions for some youth in rural areas, as they’re dependent on school bus-based WiFi and other distant locations. On the Navajo Nation, the tribe will be upgrading chapter houses with internet, but many students will still have to drive miles just to learn virtually.
Thankfully, groups are banding together to help these populations get the support they need. The First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council is working with the Navajo Nation Department of Dine Education – Project Indigenous LAUNCH to form the Navajo Nation Early Childhood Collaboration Team. We’re collaborating to address needs of families with young children, such as addressing the need for essential items and to further address the social emotional effects of the pandemic.
In the Navajo Nation in particular, early childhood learning centers remain closed. This leaves hundreds of babies, toddlers and preschoolers without the high-quality learning setting that could be preparing them for future academic success. But groups like the Navajo Nation Early Childhood Collaboration Team are working to fill the gap. We’re sharing resources through virtual means, including social media, to ensure that families can access everything from services via an online resource guide to providing referrals amongst providers and early childhood programs. We’re also coordinating virtual events that will be recorded and re-broadcast on local radio for those who may not have social media.
Moving forward, public and private groups will need to get creative to help Arizona’s youngest and most vulnerable kids. But to do so, we must first make an effort to understand them. As you cast your ballot this November, keep them, and other at-risk populations, in mind.
Rhonda Etsitty is a Quality First coach with the Association for Supportive Child Care, where she provides onsite coaching and mentoring to early education programs participating in the quality improvement process of Quality First. She’s also the vice chair as well as an at-large representative on the First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council. She is a tribal member of the Navajo Nation, her clans are Kinlichii’nii, born for Ta’neeszahnii and resides in Flagstaff, Arizona.