If you have read about me in my previous posts you probably know a little about why I work a Universal Prekindergarten Program Assistant Director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Capital Area. Other than the obvious reasons like how great of an organization the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is and my passion for education. I have followed an inquisitive thread of thought about the relationship between life and education. At first, this might sound obvious, because these two are related. Many would say that educational systems were built to prepare people for life. However, are graduates really prepared for real life challenges? Don't get me wrong, I am all for teaching for jobs that don't exist. However, I think somewhere on our quest we got lost and ended up with things like coloring inside the lines and standardized testing. Knowing humans, a little bit of greed and power was thrown into the mix too.
About two years ago I stood in an AIESEC Conference as an Alumni of the organization presenting an opening keynote, where I asked the audience of bright university students and recent graduates. "If you attended prekindergarten stand up", while others remained sitting. Then I said "if you attended Kindergarten stand up", more people stood up, but still not all of them. Then I asked "if you have attended Elementary education starting with Grade 1 stand up." As expected, the rest of students stood up. The crowd was confused about two things. First, about the reason why everyone stood up at different times? Secondly, they were more confused about why am I starting a keynote about the importance of international exchange programs by asking about pre-kindergarten! The answer is quite simple...
In 1989, the United Nations drafted and signed one of the most important treaties in human right's history, to the extent that they named the whole convention after it, Convention on the Rights of the Child. Now, this was important because only 30 years before that the Declarations of the Rights of the Child sometimes known as the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child was signed. Declarations of the Rights of the Child is an international document promoting child rights adopted by the League of Nations. If any child reads the Declarations of the Rights of the Child today would be really disappointed at how little humanity considered as children’s rights. Here is a glimpse:
The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored.
The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.
The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of its fellow men.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 did better than that, I promise. Because this treaty is followed and maintained to date. However, it’s also the reason why many of the audience members stood at a different times. Governments are only required to ensure free and compulsory primary education. Therefore, not everyone had to go to preschool!
“The child has a right to education, and the State's duty is to ensure that primary education is free and compulsory, to encourage different forms of secondary education accessible to every child and to make higher education available to all on the basis of capacity. School discipline shall be consistent with the child's rights and dignity. The State shall engage in international cooperation to implement this right”.
Later in the keynote, I connected the inception of AIESEC as an organization after the 2nd World War with the creation of the United Nations. Elaborated on how international exchange programs are important to bridge gaps between nations and every single exchange participant raises the collective international cultural proficiency that hopefully promotes peace and prevents one person from using a nuclear weapon or build a wall between nations. It takes one brick to start building a wall or a bridge and that person could be any of these young people sitting in the room. At the end of my keynote, I shared my dream of hoping one day to be a molecule in a brick of a bridge that would enable all children to receive preschool education for free.
Little did I know that about two years later I will be working for community based organization co-delivering a universal prekindergarten program in public schools. Reflecting on my fruitful first learning I was able to revisit the thread of thought I am following (the connection between educational curricula and real life skills), and learn plenty of other things in the process. I summed them up on three learning points.
1. Life Preparation
Students are being taught how to use their basic motor skills, social-emotional skills, cultural proficiency, reading skills, writing skills, love, kindness, and many more fundamental life skills. So following my thread of thoughts and starting with the first schooling experience to explore our current educational system was a step in the right direction. I have witnessed 4-year-olds struggle with juice boxes, learn how to greet each other, self-regulate, calm themselves down and happily interact with the world around them. Every day passes these young children gain more skills that are necessary to be productive citizens of the future.
I also learned that just like older students and adults, preschool students have different needs. Traditional educational strategies are applied in classrooms, but personalized strategies are frequently utilized too. Teachers cater to each students' learning style because every skill being taught is essential and related to everyday life. I have seen students use communication charts, group activities, individualized activities, and different participation methods to achieve the same learning objective. I have even witnessed a teacher creatively dealing with a challenging student by rewarding him to go on 10 minutes walks on Tuesdays with a hall monitor he seemed to develop a relationship with. This student looks forward to Tuesdays and tries his best during class. I have visited integrated classrooms and wasn’t able to tell who has a learning disability and who doesn’t because all of them are performing well.
3. Humanistic Leadership
The people who work with are honestly some of the most hardworking people I have met in my life. They are all there for a reason and passionate about what they do. When someone makes a mistake they own it and grow from it. You can see that purposeful leadership comes from the heart and soul of these educational leaders. Teachers spend extra time and effort to create a safe and inviting environment for their students. Teachers from different classrooms collaborate and share each-others' strengths to develop and teach successful lessons. My supervisor is a senior woman who could be enjoying her retirement, however, she decided to spend the past 5 years building and growing this program to serve about 300 students. She works around the clock and inspires me on daily basis to be a better educational leader.
From where I stand the future looks so bright and joyous if things continue the same way. However, I still wonder why in higher stages of education our classrooms start looking like industrial revolution sweatshops? Why are we implementing curricula that do not prepare students for life? Why do our students look like replicated zombies who didn’t live to their full potential? All of this extends beyond higher education, it includes many professional office settings where offices are made of cubical mazes and filled with one size fit all policies.
For now, I am excited to continue exploring the preschool realm and keep on learning, reflecting and joyfully interact with the world around me just like our Pre-K Students.