By Lisa Pemberton
Puyallup Tribal News Editor
Puyallup Tribal member David Turnipseed took over as director of Grandview Early Learning Center on March 30, just two weeks after Tribal Council closed all tribal schools to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Former director Peggy McCloud officially retired at the same time, but agreed to stay on at the school a little longer to help with Turnipseed’s transition — and oversee a five-year federal early learning grant that increases the use of the Twulshootseed language at the Tribe’s daycare and preschool.
Turnipseed said the Grandview staff have been working closely with Tribal Council, but a reopening date has not yet been set.
During the closure, the center has continued to provide support for families with weekly boxes of meals and snacks for its students. Teachers have also provided activity packets with books, flash cards and cultural activities for kids to work on at home.
Turnipseed said he’s been in contact with other daycare providers, to find out what’s working and not.
“I just kind of feel like we need to be as cautious and as careful as humanly possible,” he said.
The center offers a subsidized care program that helps Tribal members receive childcare at home, and temporarily expanding that option might be part of the solution, he added.
For Turnipseed, it was a homecoming of sorts. He is a former teacher’s assistant at the school, which serves about 100 students in its center-based program and about 100 students in its community-based subsidized childcare program, from birth to age 12.
“Every single teacher in every single classroom has in some way mentored me and helped me along the way in this journey,” he said.
McCloud served as director since 2007.
“I’ll never forget my first day here,” she said. “I found a weathered and tattered eagle feather. I picked it up and said, ‘Oh.’ I took it home and cleaned it. … I then knew this center was where I needed to be.”
McCloud also worked at Chief Leschi Schools for nearly 30 years. Before that, she was a teacher’s assistant at the Tribal daycare when it was in the Hawthorne building.
She credits her parents Merle and Berniece McCloud for inspiring her to go into education.
“They believed in community, families, children and (that) education is life learning,” McCloud said. “I had wonderful role models, and I try to follow these same values.”
Teaching Twulshootseed to the youngest Tribal members
Two years ago, Turnipseed attended a four-hour beginner Twulshootseed class. It changed his life, and that’s when he knew he wanted to play a role in revitalizing the Tribe’s traditional language.
After that class, Turnipseed put in notice at his job with South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency, where he worked as an adjunct professor for Tacoma Community College, helping Native Americans who are 21 and older earn a high school diploma.
He took the advice of Language Program Director Amber Hayward and applied to be a teacher’s assistant at Grandview Early Learning Center.
“She said start at Grandview and your (Twulshootseed) skills will grow with the kids,” Turnipseed said. “I did a complete career change.”
When McCloud saw his application for a teacher’s assistant position, her immediate thought was “he’s really overqualified.” Turnipseed earned a Master’s in Education from Seattle University and had been teaching at Tacoma Community College.
But she knew his dad and grandma. His parents are Michael and Kathie Turnipseed, and his grandparents Bertha Jane and the late Pernelle Raymond Turnipseed.
She invited him to tour the facility, and get the answer to her question: Why Grandview?
“He said he wanted to teach (Twulshootseed), but couldn’t teach more than he knew, so he had to start with the babies,” McCloud recalled.
A place where lessons are in the dirt
During the tour, they entered the center’s Outdoor Classroom. With areas that are based on traditional Salish cultural activities, such as a wood carving shed and a covered gathering area, Turnipseed knew that quitting his job and making a major career change was the right decision
“The moment that I saw all of this, I was like, ‘Yes, sign me up,’” he said, looking around at the space. Instead of plastic climbing toys that you find at most childcare centers, the space is filled with natural elements such as wood, plants and dirt.
It was designed for kids to explore and learn about their language, culture, history and community, McCloud said. She said a traditional healer, Isadore Tom Jr., once told her that children need to play in nature to discover their identity, and learn life’s lessons.
“The earth will open up, he said, their spirit. It will guide them to what excites them,” McCloud said.
Tribal Council played a key role in making the Outdoor Classroom a reality, she said.
“They’ve always invested in our children,” McCloud said.
While working as a teacher’s assistant, Turnipseed was able to learn how Grandview operates, and practice working in a full immersion Twulshootseed preschool classroom several times a month.
“I wanted to come in and show that I can do all the jobs, from cleaning and taking out the garbage and changing diapers, and build that relationship with staff and families,” he said.
About six months later, Turnipseed was hired as a Twulshootseed teacher with the Tribe’s Language Program. McCloud said she wasn’t surprised. It was a dream job that Turnipseed said he never expected to leave.
Then, McCloud’s job was advertised. Because of the grant and other work being done at the Grandview, Turnipseed felt he’d still be able to help with language revitalization.
“That’s still my life’s mission,” he said. “Now I just get to do it in a different way here at Grandview.”
Modernization projects at the center
Without children and most staff at the center, Turnipseed has had time to tackle some administrative-heavy projects, such as getting an electronic check-in system for kids, plan a major remodeling project and update the center’s policy manual.
McCloud said she’s ready to pass the torch to Turnipseed.
Federal regulations passed during the Obama administration to improve early childhood education outcomes have boosted the amount of administrative work for childcare centers.
“We’re coming into an era that is full of technology,” McCloud said. “We need (someone) to be able to gather staff to create that vision.”
McCloud described Turnipseed as a “ray of sunshine” who works great with kids, families and staff members. “When he applied for the director position, I was ecstatic,” she said. “He knew of the staff, he knew the children, but most of all he knew the importance of our language because the language is everything about who we are. And that belonging – that is the most foundational piece for our children.”