I’d like to say something about the teachers. I mentioned last week our meeting to discuss how we could expand our conversation about race, culture and diversity. I didn’t realize at the time how quickly they would take it to heart. This week conversations have been popping up all over the school, many inspired by Dr. Elsie Moore’s visit to the Seed on Tuesday. Elementary classes have spent time processing what they learned from Elsie’s stories of growing up during the Civil Rights Movement in rural Virginia. Kindergarteners wrote notes to her as their teacher helped clarify understanding. Later they participated in a “march” with their buddies around the school, chanting messages of peace and equality. The 3rd/4th graders engaged in a discussion that started with Langston Hughes, a Harlem Renaissance poet, and shifted to a timeline that included the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement (including when Elsie’s stories took place), and the election of a black president eight years ago.
The Preschool 4s held a celebration for Dr. King with crowns, candles, cupcakes, and a moment of silence to quietly honor his work. Other preschool teachers offered their thoughts about ways to broaden the children’s understanding of Elsie’s stories in future years, including looking at maps, introducing specific vocabulary, and reading books to set the stage prior to her visit. Although the toddlers were too young to attend the talk with Elsie, they were busy learning the same lessons as the older kids, in their own developmentally appropriate ways. Here is an excerpt of what I received from the Toddler 2s about their week:
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Day brings topics about diversity everywhere we look. In the Toddler Twos our way to tackle these topics is by simply teaching them to love one another. We teach them tolerance by showing respect, demonstrating that everyone in our classroom is a valued member. We give them plenty of opportunities to play and interact with one another, and by playing together we celebrate our similarities and differences. In our family tree display, we celebrate everyone’s family. We acknowledge and respect our differences in interests and styles. We value the uniqueness of each member of our classroom…We give each child the opportunity to express themselves, encouraging each child to voice their opinion. With classroom jobs we show them that everyone is valued and we need everyone’s contribution to run a smooth class every day. We help each child feel good about themselves by learning together about each other’s culture, beliefs and traditions…We welcome new friends into our classroom with excitement and we gladly lend a hand to a friend in need. Two-year-olds might be a little young to learn about history, but it’s never too early to talk to them about cooperation, acceptance, peace and caring for one another.”
It’s the work of teachers who think this way that gives children confidence to ask the big questions later on. It’s teachers like this who inspire alums, years after they’ve been at the Seed, to still feel connected and respond to a photo posted of a current Seed talking with Elsie:
“I remember Elsie’s visits so well! She made a real impression.”
“Friends are always shocked to hear I went to an elementary school that actively taught empathy and encouraged personal growth through exposure to different experiences and backgrounds.”
On days like today, it’s good to know that our work, still in progress, is most definitely influencing lives.