Experts have discussed the importance of quality preschool education. When children are enrolled in these types of educational programs, there is a short term and long-term benefit to the child, family, city, and the nation.
I am an advocate for universal pre-k that places diversity and inclusion at the center of the educational practice. As a father of two Black boys, I’ve struggled finding a preschool that was both of high academic quality and cultural competence.
When children are not able to be met at their cultural needs, the educational institution fails to provide a holistic educational experience. Failing to provide a holistic educational experience has the potential to prevent children from developing a lifelong love of learning. I constantly struggled with the fear that my younger son might end up hating learning throughout his educational experience this year. The school fell short of providing an engaging, vibrant, and diverse learning environment that strengthened my son’s curiosity, especially in his ethnic and cultural background.
It is important to note, I believe parents must work with schools to ensure that children of color receive a holistic educational experience in preschool. In addition, the school’s staff has to act with deliberate speed to ensure the school meets students of color at their needs and interests.
Parents should ask the following questions to understand whether or not their children’s school values diversity and inclusion.
Question 1: What is celebrated in your child’s school?
If your child’s school celebrates holidays like St. Patrick ’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Thanksgiving, but does not celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day or Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, etc., then the school might not diversity and inclusion as a central value to their core vision.
It is important that all children’s cultural histories and experiences be integrated into the formal and informal programing of the school. When this is not the case, the dominant group’s history and cultural experiences become the norm of human existence. This can have a deleterious impact on students of color.
Question 2: Does your child’s school have a diverse selection of books in their school library?
When children of color see main characters, who look like them in books, it has a powerful impact on their own agency. When white children see strong main characters of color in books, it creates the potential for them to develop an appreciation of people of color as contributors to society. I believe children’s books have the power to dismantle stereotypes by offering positive images of people of color.
Question 3A: What training is provided to teachers in the school that support their understanding of children of color ? 3B. How do teachers use that training into their teaching ?
An institution that values diversity and inclusion will seek professional development opportunities that allow their faculty to be culturally competent. After the professional development, teachers should be given time to develop action plans on how they will it impact their teaching on daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
Question 4: How does your child’s teacher discuss his/her strengths and weaknesses?
Teachers should be able to describe your children’s strengths and areas of growth in detail. Discussing a child’s areas of growth is important, but it cannot be the only thing discussed. If a teacher is unable to discuss in detail your child’s strengths and interests, then there is a strong possibility the teacher pays more attention how he/she is behaving. When teachers primary focus is on behavior, it shows they do not know your child. If a teacher does not know your child, then it is difficult for your child to be met at his/her academic needs and personal interests.
The underlying issue is implicit bias. When teachers act with implicit bias, they create the possibility for Black children to hate school. Hating school will have a deleterious impact on kids’ ability to develop and advance their dreams.
Question 5: How does the school respond to local and national tragedies?
In Pittsburgh, there were two tragedies that rocked our community. My son’s school responded to these tragedies in two different ways.
In the fall of 2018, a gunman ran into a Jewish synagogue and murdered innocent worshipers. The impact of this cowardly act shook our city, nation, and world. My son’s school sent an email providing families with tools to engage our children in tough conversations about what happened at The Tree of Life synagogue.
In the spring of 2019, a former police officer was acquitted of killing an unarmed Black boy. This killing had deep impact on me as a Black man who is the father of two Black boys. The school’s response to this tragedy was nothing. When I talked to the school’s leader and leadership, their low level of empathy did not meet me at my need as a parent.
I remember having a conversation with a former classmate. This classmate and I talked about quality educational experiences for children of color. My classmate informed me that Black children, who are enrolled in high quality programs, tend to receive and experience low quality care. As a Black father with my son, this was our experience—high quality ranking school and a low-quality experience.
Demanding quality Pre-K is important, but we also have to demand Pre-K programs that are culturally responsive and inclusive!
Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL is the President of The Dreamocracy Learning Lab and Founder of The Young Dreamers’ Book Club. His work focuses on creating innovative programming, content, and initiatives to inspire children to view reading as a tool to create and build their dreams. Dr. Griffin-EL’s fundamental belief is that meeting children at their dreams is a powerful way to teach them the importance of reading. Follow him on Twitter @drgriffinel