A couple of years ago, we decided to put on a play that would merge the lives of Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall, for the children in our preschool program to perform for our One Step Ahead Learning Center staff and families. The play, Rosa Parks goes to Jail and set design, took our preschoolers back to the 1960s, and tackled legal segregation.
Segregation, for four year olds, seems like a complicated topic. Our students internalized the lines of the play, practiced for weeks, and told a story of resilience, strength and change that has attracted over 54,000 views on YouTube. For months after the play was over, our students were still smiling from the applause of their big debut, heads still high, still talking about all they had learned about the civil rights movement. Our students, simply put, were proud.
Schools that serve predominately children of color should have an atmosphere that unapologetically celebrates who they are, so that they will learn to do the same. Their culture, flavor and all of the parts of their history that make them unique, strong and powerful should be evident on every wall, down every hall and in every classroom. Schools, even preschools and daycares, are where children spend most of their day. As educators, and early childhood educators in particular, we have a unique opportunity to teach the most precious members of our communities that they are somebody special before the world tries to make them believe otherwise. Pride has to start in preschool.
Lessons about leaders and change makers who helped make the world a more just place, should not be reserved for just Black, Latino and Women’s history month. Children should have a love for their history reinforced, every day. Schools that do not operate like this are doing our children a great disservice.
In my preschool, history is everywhere. It is woven into our math, reading and science classes, our performing arts program, the school lunches, our extracurricular activities, and our parent engagement. We love the color of our children’s skin and all that comes with who they are. Even at the age of three, children are looking to see themselves in their environment. We have to introduce them to narratives that counter the negative images that they see in the media.
To make history come to life for our children, we use the arts. Our preschool has put on out of this world performances, both plays and concerts that give the students an opportunity to become the leaders that we teach them about. If you were to ask any of our preschoolers who their role models are, they would likely say Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King. Our parents love it too, because we show them that their children are capable of learning about difficult moments in history. Our children get it.
Our children recite positive messages to themselves daily, and our staff is sensitive to the challenges that growing up in urban environments can bring for both our students and families. We address those challenges, by teaching our students that people of color are strong creators, and we encourage our parents by providing supports we know they need. The earlier we start to show them that who they are is connected to greatness, we are planting in them a seed of excellence as well.
You are never too young to learn the truth. Lessons in history and schools that are culturally rich show students what is possible for their own futures. With so much negativity in media, music and even in the things they see in their neighborhoods, it is important to show them that their story is much more than that.
It is never too early to teach children to take pride in who they are and the greatness they come from. In fact, pride is one of the most important seeds to plant.
Our students are black and brown, every day. They are connected to greatness, every day. And so every day, they should learn, see and feel something that makes them proud about it.
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