All Kids Benefit from Quality Early Education

By Emily Pelton, Voices for Georgia’s Children

emily-blog-photoSeveral years ago, I had the pleasure of overseeing a Bright from the Start Pre-K Center in metro Atlanta.   Our clientele was an unusual one:  four-year-olds who hailed from all over the world.
While Georgia is making a point in effectively educating English language learners, often the classroom setting is a bi-lingual one.   Our children were an international melting pot, sometimes with more than 10 languages represented in a class of 22 children!  The playbook is still being written for this type of learning environment.
Certainly, there were challenges, but at the end of nearly every year we found that more than 90 percent of our kids were kindergarten-ready in terms of their literacy, numeracy, and social development.   Yet, our teachers were not hired for foreign language skills.  What was the secret to our success?

  • A symphony of syllables. While our children learned to sit quietly and to take rest periods, at other times of day, our classroom was sometimes a loud place to be.  Why?  Because our teachers strongly encouraged the kids to speak up and express themselves, regardless of their native language.  They knew that communicating and connecting with others was good for the children’s social and brain development.
  • Purposeful parental engagement.  Engaging with schools is so important in our school system, and we wanted to ensure every family learned this before their child began his or her K-12 journey.   We held parent events on evenings and weekends when parents were available, and we offered fun incentives (like sharing donated books and door prizes) to make the occasions a community-building experience more like a party.  We also offered parents detailed feedback and ideas for learning at home to make events worth their while.
  • Mapping a path to the future. Our children and families had the opportunity to visit their new kindergarten classrooms before leaving the cocoon of our Pre-K classroom.  This helped answer big questions and link their Pre-K experience to their new educational setting.  It also reduced their fears and prepared them for transition by presenting it as a positive.
  • Celebrating progress. At four, children’s brains are developing at a remarkable rate, and we found there was always so much to applaud throughout the year – whether it was witnessing a child acquire English or come out of her shell, hearing a parent request new learning materials for the home, or receiving gratitude from families for teaching their child well.  Children, parents, and staff all need shout outs and encouragement!

Perhaps most important of all, our model normalized differences.   Our teachers were trained not to differentiate students based on English fluency, their country of origin, or their learning challenges.  We expected great things from all of our kids – so that no one suffered from the crushing weight of limited expectations.
In fact, the principles we applied to teach a room full of mind-bogglingly diverse kids are those that work well in any good early learning setting – including our own homes.  Investing in communication, engaging families in learning, and expecting amazing things from our children is a formula for success.  And, we are so fortunate to have a Pre-K program in Georgia that offers children this universal opportunity.  Thanks for celebrating Georgia Pre-K Week with us, and please share your story on our blog!

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