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Jennifer Vardy: A strong advocate and ally for Indigenous families

Year: 2020 — Province: Alberta
Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Fort McMurray #468 First Nation Childcare Services Department
Aboriginal Head Start and daycare for children ages 12 months to 5 years (Brighter Beginnings Academy)
Fort McMurray, Alberta

Jenn always goes above and beyond to help my family and all members of the community. She is always asking parents for their feedback and listening.


Jennifer Vardy is a passionate advocate for early childhood education, in particular for Indigenous families living on reserve. She created the Fort McMurray #468 First Nation's first-ever Aboriginal Head Start in 2016—from the ground up. She opened an on-reserve daycare two years later. There has been an increase in families with full-time employment—taking a step to get out of poverty—because they have a childcare option.

Philosophy of care

Jennifer believes Indigenous children deserve the support their parents and grandparents were denied, so she ensures they get three times the hugs, three times the cuddles and three times the understanding. "The best way to heal trauma is with compassion, understanding and empathy," she says.

Support of child development

  • Adapted the centre's curriculum in response to the 2018 provincial Indigenous Early Learning Framework to ensure her program could embrace First Nations culture, language and traditions to their fullest.
  • Combines Vygotsky theories of social importance in children with Montessori's dramatic play to build lessons and elevate play: children curious about the x-rays a classmate had to have tried out a cardboard x-ray machine and got a photocopy of what a real x-ray looks; later they "x-rayed" all the classroom animals.
  • Transformed facility into a nature-inspired centre, including hand painting a support beam to look like a tree, so the many children who attend the Head Start but spend their summers, falls and springs outside are comfortable in the learning environment.
  • Focused on ensuring children are ready for school: is doing study of how the Head Start has improved the academic success of First Nations children; Head Start staff have yearly meetings with a neighbouring school on how to improve their program to better fit the Alberta government's academic requirements.

Involvement with parents, families and the community

  • Actively supports parents of children with high needs with monthly meetings to provide them with developmental support; set up a committee so parents can have a say in the curriculum; holds quarterly gatherings of parents and staff to enjoy a meal together.
  • Founded the Fort McMurray #468 Early Years Coalition to promote early childhood development: provides parenting classes, workshops on topics such as developmental delays, grandparents' raising toddlers and traditional parenting, and family fun days focused on child development.
  • Secures funding to ensure all children—especially those from low-income families—have everything they need while attending Head Start, such as birthday parties, with cake, decorations and gifts at no cost; organizes a charity drive so all community members have Christmas gifts, toiletries and winter clothes.
  • Supports her staff so they can provide the best education for children: secured sponsorship so staff could attend the early childhood education program at Portage College debt free; helped write applications for bursaries and grants; opens her home so staff can do their assignments on weekends.

Get in touch!

Fort McMurray #468 First Nation Childcare Services Department
PO BOX 6130
Fort McMurray AB  T9H 4W1

Facebook: @brighterbeginningsacademyheadstart

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