American Indian & Alaska Native Head Start Research Center (AIANHSRC)


Two reports completed prior to the funding of AIANHSRC summarized the available literature on AI/AN children’s early development, what the literature was missing, and priorities for meeting Region XI Head Start’s data needs. These two reports can be accessed on the ACF website: A Summary of Research and Publications on Early Childhood for American Indian and Alaska Native Children (2003) and Establishing a Research Agenda for American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Programs (2004). As the 2003 report points out, Region XI programs operate in unique settings and, within those settings, children and families experience both challenges and opportunities. Understanding the unique settings, challenges, and opportunities within Region XI is critical for informing Head Start policy and practice. However, in order to gather meaningful data, research must be conducted in ways that are informed by an understanding of the mixed history of research with AI/AN communities, follow protocols for research involving sovereign tribal nations, and employ methodologies consonant with local ways of knowing and being. Central to this work is close partnership between researchers and Native communities in the co-creation of knowledge that reflects tribal ways of knowing, experiences, and perspectives.

Specific aims

AIANHSRC was funded to begin paving the way for meaningful research to be conducted in partnership with Region XI Head Start programs and the AI/AN communities in which they operate. With guidance from a Steering Committee comprised of Region XI Head Start leaders, child development researchers, and federal partners, AIANHSRC sought to build research capacity and knowledge that would help create the conditions under which such meaningful research could occur. To that end, AIANHSRC undertook three major sets of activities:

  1. Funding Head Start-university partnerships between senior academic researchers and individual Region XI programs to grow capacity for research among both partners, to conduct studies that would yield data to inform a broader research agenda, and to deliver benefit to the local program.
  2. Providing career development support for junior scholars pursuing an academic research career focused on Native children’s development, particularly in the context of Head Start or other early care and education settings.
  3. Conducting a multi-site pilot study of the methods and measures used in the Family and Child Experiences Survey to inform future possibilities for a descriptive study dedicated to the needs and priorities of Region XI programs. 

Partnership network



AIANHSRC was established to increase research capacity among researchers and tribal community partners as a step toward addressing the Region XI Head Start research and data gaps that existed prior to the Center’s funding. The AIANHSRC Steering Committee included Region XI Head Start leaders, researchers, and federal staff who provided guidance to ensure that the Center’s activities aligned with Region XI Head Start priorities and with best practices for research with AI/AN communities.  Capacity was grown by supporting senior researchers and junior scholars who partnered with Region XI Head Start programs on site-specific projects that employed culturally consonant methodologies to gather data that meaningfully captured the experiences of Region XI Head Start children, families, programs, and communities and that were promising for informing local and national Head Start policy and practice.  Many of the research and program partners involved in this early work have continued their research partnerships with one another or with the Center and its work as it has evolved over the years with subsequent funding through the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center. In addition to these individual research-program partnerships, the Center partnered directly with diverse Region XI Head Start programs across the country to pilot methods and measures from the Family and Child Experiences Survey.  This pilot work laid the foundation for the first national study of Region XI Head Start that has since been carried out with cohorts of over 20 Region XI programs in 2015 and 2019.


Following are examples of publications and presentations related to projects supported by AIANHSRC:

  • Faircloth, S. C., & Pfeffer, R. (2008, March). Collaborating with tribal communities and families to improve the social, emotional, and linguistic competence of young Indigenous children. Newsletter of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) Special Interest Division 14: Perspectives on communication disorders and sciences and culturally and linguistically diverse populations, 15(1).
  • Fitzgerald, H. E., Farrell, P., Barnes, J., Belleau, A., Gerde, H. K., Thompson, N. L., … & Parish, A. (2013). Wiba Anung: Co-creating a sustainable partnership with Michigan’s American Indian Head Start programs. In H. E. Fitzgerald & J. Primavera (Eds.), Going public: Civic and community engagement (pp. 137-161). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.
  • Fitzgerald, H. E., Farrell, P., Barnes, J. V., Belleau, A., Gerde, H., Thompson, N., … & Parish, A. (2013). Wiba Anung: Transformation change in Tribal Head Start. In H. E. Fitzgerald & J. Primavera (Eds.), Going Public: Civic and community-engagement (pp. 137-161). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.
  • Gerde, H., Barnes, J., Belleau, A., Rau, L, Farrell, P., Calcatera, M., Parrish, A., & Fitzgerald, H. E. (2012). A systematic evaluation of the cultural content and language instruction in American Indian Head Start. Journal of American Indian Education, 51(2), 42-65.
  • Hibel, J., Faircloth, S. C., & Farkas, G. (2008). Unpacking the placement of American Indian and Alaska Native students in special education programs and services in the early grades: School readiness as a predictive variableHarvard Educational Review, 78(3), 498-528. doi: 10.17763/haer.78.3.8w010nq4u83348q5
  • Romero-Little, M. E. (2010). How should young Indigenous children be prepared for learning? A vision of early childhood education for Indigenous childrenJournal of American Indian Education, 49(1/2), 7-27.  
  • Sarche, M., Novins, D., & Belcourt-Dittloff, A. (2010). Engaged scholarship with tribal communities. In H.E. Fitzgerald, C. Burack, & S. Seifer (Eds.). Handbook of engaged scholarship, Vol. 1: Institutional change (pp. 215-230).  East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. 
  • Sarche, M., & Spicer, P. (2008). Poverty and health disparities for American Indian and Alaska Native children: Current knowledge and future prospectsAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1136, 126-136. doi: 10.1196/annals.1425.017
  • Sarche, M., Spicer, P., Farrell, P., & Fitzgerald, H. E. (Eds.). (2011). Child psychology and mental health: American Indian children and mental health development, context, prevention, and treatment. Denver, CO: Praeger.  
  • Spicer, P., & Sarche, M. (2007). Culture and community in research with American Indian and Alaska Native infants, toddlers, and families. Zero to Three, 27, 55-56.
  • Spicer, P., & Sarche, M. (2006). Responding to the crisis in American Indian and Alaska Native children’s mental health. In H. Fitzgerald, B.M. Lester, & B. Zuckerman (Eds.), The crisis in youth mental health, Vol. 1: Critical issues and effective programs (pp. 257-275). Westport, CT: Praeger. 
  • Thompson, N. L., Miller, N.C., & Cameron, A.F. (2016). The Indigenization of Photovoice methodology: Visioning Indigenous Head Start in MichiganInternational Review of Qualitative Research, 9(3), 296-322. doi: 10.1525/irqr.2016.9.3.296

Poster presentations

Bezdek, M., Bergan, A., & Spicer, P. (2007). The American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Research Center. Poster and presentation at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, Boston, MA.

Poster symposium at the Society for Research on Child Development Biennial Conference, Denver, CO. (2009). 

  • Spicer, P., & Sarche, M. Advancing Research on Early Childhood Education in Indian Country
  • Barnes, J. V. Bridging the Gap: Understanding Cultural Factors Relevant to American Indian Head Start Programs
  • Rosenkoetter, S., Critical Elements in Meeting the Head Start Higher Education Mandate
  • Thompson, N. Understanding the Importance of Head Start in Michigan’s Nine American Indian communities: A Photovoice Project
  • Faircloth, S., & Hibel, J. What’s Head Start Got to Do with It?  Academic Outcomes among American Indian/Alaska Native Head Start Participants
  • Romero-Little, M.E. Valuing and Validating Indigenous Languages and Understandings: Teaching and Learning of Young Native American Children

Centers for American Indian & Alaska Native Health

Colorado School of Public Health

CU Anschutz

Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building

13055 East 17th Avenue

Mail Stop F800

Aurora, CO 80045

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