Tlingit & Haida Head Start teacher Kayla Tripp and her class look through six new Baby Raven Reads books Oct. 20, 2017, after they were delivered by SHI staff. Photo by Nobu Koch / Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage

A Southeast Alaska Native cultural organization is expanding a children’s literacy program into nine other communities in the region.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute announced this week it will be partnering with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska’s Head Start to offer the Baby Raven Reads program in communities around Southeast. Baby Raven Reads promotes literacy, language skills and school readiness for Alaska Native pre-school aged children. A pilot program in operated in Juneau for three years but ended this year.

The organization’s education program manager Katrina Hotch said it was initially aiming to reach 50 families in Juneau but ended up serving 190 families. The program uses nearly 20 books published by Sealaska Heritage, featuring Native authors and artists. But Hotch said training has been an important piece.

“The books were a part of the program but there were monthly family literacy nights and different trainings that happened throughout the year so helping parents to learn literacy exercises to do at home and training for early educators and different family members, I think that was a really impactful piece of it,” Hotch said.

The institute plans to offer family literacy events along with training sessions in Angoon, Craig, Hoonah, Klawock, Petersburg, Saxman, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat. Some of the first events could be as soon as this January. Hotch calls it an exciting development.

“I know we got a lot of responses you know and events would go up on Facebook and people would say when is this going to happen in my village and now we’re going to get to bring it to the outlying communities,” Hotch said. “So that is pretty exciting.”

As part of the expansion, Sealaska Heritage plans to publish another nine children’s books over the next three years. Those are given out free to Native families in the program.

Two of the most recent book offerings feature illustrations by Haida artist Janine Gibbons of Petersburg. They’re also available to purchase on the institute’s website. Sealaska Heritage is also looking for other authors and illustrators for future publications.

The effort is funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It was among 15 programs in the country honored this year by the Library of Congress for implementing best practices for literacy promotion.

Sealaska Heritage is a private non-profit formed by Sealaska, the regional Native corporation. It aims to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshiam cultures.