Seattle Foundation Blog

Neighbor to Neighbor Spotlight Summer 2022: Praxis Institute for Early Childhood Education

Centering the power of community is critical when providing safe and culturally responsive spaces for Black youth. Bringing community voice back to the education of Black students is one way to help close the racial disparity seen in classrooms.


September 23, 2022

By Aileen Balahadia, N2N Program Consultant

When Dr. Debra Sullivan talks about supporting Black childhood education, she speaks from a place of lived experience as a parent, grandparent, and educator. She also brings her decades of research in the field. Her book, “Cultivating the Genius of Black Children,” explores the disconnect between learning preferences and learning environments that must be bridged before the achievement gap can be closed.

“We know there is a better way to educate our children, and we must change the status quo to do so,” shares Dr. Sullivan, co-founder of the Praxis Institute for Early Childhood Education (Praxis ECE). Like her book, Praxis ECE aims to close the achievement gap between white and students of color, especially Black children.

Praxis ECE is one of Neighbor to Neighbor’s (N2N) Summer 2022 grantees. Its mission is to create developmentally, racially, and economically accessible teaching and learning communities for social change that empowers learners to think critically, respond proactively, and strive for social justice.

With N2N funding, Praxis ECE will create the Ashé Community Educator Certification Panel through the newly created Ashé Community Educator Certification Institute. South Seattle community members— including Black students and their parents—will make up the panel. Current and future teachers undergoing the community certification process will have the opportunity to hear feedback about whether their teaching practices are best suited to educate Black students in a healthy, safe, and caring learning environment.

The community panel is designed to bring the voice and participation of the Black community back into the education of Black students. It recognizes that Black community members—including parents, families, and activists—understand the strategies, processes and relationships needed to teach Black students and centers this understanding by allowing community members to vet and approve Institute participants for community certification. By giving space for community members and families to certify Institute participants, Praxis ECE recognizes the value that those without formal training bring when it comes to educating the next generation in their communities.

“Why do we separate teacher preparation and training from the community?” asks Fa’izah Bradford, a Board member of Praxis ECE. “It’s a false division.” Bringing community voice back to the education of Black students is one way to help close the racial disparity seen in classrooms.

This new community certification process will prioritize the education techniques and strategies that Black community members have relied on for decades, such as providing more classroom opportunities for:

  • Tactile/kinesthetic learning
  • Discussion, expressive language, and playing with language
  • Collaboration, working collectively, small group work
  • Relationship-based, seeing the teacher as a member of the student’s community support group
  • Mental/physical challenge
  • Individualistic creative expression
  • Connection to self, others, nature, and the universe
  • Intergenerational mentoring
  • Supportive expectations of competence
  • Sense of belonging, being loved and wanted

These culturally specific techniques are often overlooked in the state-approved teaching certification process and formal degree training programs, leaving many teachers feeling that they are inadequately prepared to teach Black youth. Lack of this knowledge plays a key role in the undereducation of Black children and youth. It also plays into the disproportionate rate of harsh disciplinary action, suspension, and expulsion of Black students.

“Daily, Black youth find themselves in hostile teaching environments where they are treated more harshly and disciplined more severely than their peers. Yet, their families have very little say in how those teaching environments are designed, constructed, and implemented,” explained Dr. Sullivan, “This Institute and community certification promotes inclusive teaching and learning.”

To learn more about Praxis, please connect with Dr. Sullivan at debra.sullivan@gmail.com.

The full list of N2N Summer 2022 grantees is:

  1. Adult Youth Learning Center**: To support education outcomes for a strong Somali and immigrant refugee community in South Seattle through intergenerational workshops focused on parents and their children learning and practicing Somali and English.
  2. Burien Youth Cooperative Project**: To support Burien/White Center area BIPOC high school leaders to increase economic development and entrepreneurship through the design of a worker-owned cooperative project.
  3. East African Senior Meal Program: To provide continued support for East African seniors in Rainier Beach to meet weekly at the Farm, providing physical and social benefits, food access and access to safe outdoor spaces, while fostering engagement and leadership around food and the environment.
  4. Enlightened Era**: To support South Seattle area BIPOC youth and those coming out of the justice system with community resources, workshops, juvenile justice advocacy and mentorships with those from similar lived experiences.
  5. MyAdvocate*: To pilot court support and organized actions in Kent for BIPOC families whose loved one was killed by police, building a movement to support each other, mobilize community, and take action to change policing culture.
  6. Native Daily Network*: To amplify Indigenous voices in King County and traditional lands of the Coast Salish tribes by deepening relationships with a network of urban Native Americans to host an Indigenous Community Empowerment event focused on culture sharing, dance, song, storytelling, and environmental awareness.
  7. Panama Folklore: To support diverse Latinx communities in South Seattle to increase civic engagement and build community with the annual Oratory event focused on expression, public speaking and elevating the importance of the power of giving back to community. 
  8. Praxis Institute for Early Childhood Education*: To support a community-based "teacher certification" institute, and a Community Panel (made up of South Seattle area Black parents, students) who will certify them, to uplift local expertise and participation of the Black community with Black students’ educational excellence. 
  9. The Feels Foundation*: To support a South Seattle area vendor market to support Black and brown artists, small business owners and youth leaders in the South Seattle area to encourage entrepreneurship, build community and develop local leadership.
  10. The Giving Room Project*: To support South Seattle BIPOC neighbors to reduce waste, share resources, and build community by sharing gently used clothing, household staples, and repairing textile and other items for free at local pop-up events.
  11. The Liberian Association of WA*: To provide focused training for Kent area Liberian and African community members, including the board, volunteers and youth, to increase leadership skills and ensure the organization is well represented, meets community needs and can grow over time effectively. 
  12. Why Not Us Foundation*: To support a partnership with South Seattle majority BIPOC families enrolled at Tiny Tots Development Center to promote healing eating, sustainable food production and exercise through projects focused on growing foods locally and refurbishing bicycles.

* First time N2N grantee
** First Seattle Foundation grant received  

For More Information

To learn more about Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N), please contact Program Consultant Aileen Balahadia at 206-250-4299 or a.balahadia@seattlefoundation.org. The quarterly deadlines for N2N applications are January 30, April 30, July 30 and October 3.

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African AmericansBIPOCCommunities of coloreducationNeighbor to NeighborRacial equity

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