At three Boston-area Head Start centers, teachers and preschoolers alike have created books and calendars that are as much works of art as they are educational projects.
Using bilingual text, family photos, printouts from the Internet, and drawings, the artists have showcased their diversity through colorful displays that blend contributions from teachers, young children, and families.
The teachers at these Head Start centers have participated in an EDC-designed professional development program, Classroom Connections. They are exploring ways to meet the needs of their preschool students for whom English is a second language. At the same time, the preschoolers are receiving an enriched program that is interactive, and culturally and linguistically responsive.
As the Latino population in the United States grows, so does the large achievement gap for Latino students. Today, there are over 42 million Latinos in the United States, and one in 10 kindergartners is an English-language learner. Because of this, integrating the values and skills taught in the program at the preschool level is rapidly growing in importance, says EDC’s Costanza Eggers-Piérola.
Participating educators, who themselves represent linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds, learn how to apply current research to promote children’s language and literacy development. They also learn how to support preschoolers with language differences—those with developmental difficulties as well as English-language learners—and work with Latino families.
“The program has a balanced approach that values what the teachers bring and looks at how what they already know fits in with best practices for supporting young children’s learning,” says Eggers-Piérola.
Initially, the program was taught bilingually, adapting two of EDC’s Excellence in Teaching courses along with a new course developed from Eggers-Piérola’s book Connections and Commitments: Reflecting Latino Values in Early Education Programs.
Although it began as an initiative to help Latino Head Start teachers earn degrees in early childhood care and education, the program has since been expanded and modified, and now works with educators of all backgrounds. “We wanted to extend the reach of this opportunity to other bilingual adults who work with Latino children,” says Eggers-Piérola.
Back in their own classrooms, teachers work closely with students and their families, using what they know about the children’s home life as inspiration for lessons. For example, one teacher noted that many of the children in her classroom are familiar with the hairdressing profession, and so developed a curriculum unit around the bilingual children’s book, Hairs/Pelitos, by Sandra Cisneros. Related activities may include having a hairdresser visit the class, going to a neighborhood salon, or creating a salon in the classroom. In this way, a rich vocabulary and activities emerged from the children’s own interests and experiences.
Some activities—such as the creation of the books and calendars—can involve parents as well. “The families created books about what they experienced coming to this country. Some knew very little English and worked with the educators to generate words that were important to the family. For instance, one family wrote ‘realize’ and its Spanish equivalent ‘realizarse’ and had a message to their child about being proud of their Salvadoran heritage. Seeing something like this impacts the way children see and feel about their families,” says Eggers-Piérola.
Classroom Connections is conducted in collaboration with Urban College in Boston. Having the program based on its campus has built the capacity of Urban College to address the needs of diverse learners. The program “has been a valuable method to reach out to an important growing community…[and] encourages [our] students to go even further in their education pursuits,” said Urban College President Linda E. Turner.
The program receives financial support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. Cambridge College and Action for Boston Community Development are also partners in this five year program.
Originally published on January 1, 2008