I Belong at MSP
At the beginning of each school year, there is a newness that is exciting. That was no different for us at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year at Main Street Preschool. As the new Director, all of children were "new" to me, so my excitement was multiplied many fold. In my interview process, I had been told that we had the potential to become a very diverse school. No one, myself included, was prepared for the school year that followed.
As students enrolled throughout the month of September and October, it became clear to us that we were indeed a diverse population. We had immediately had students whose home language was Spanish (with students from Mexico and Columbia), Vietnamese, Amharic and Tigrinya. As the year progressed, we would add four more languages to our total and we found ourselves more often wondering if a certain child could understand English than we ever had before. It added a new dimension to our entire educational process and we scrambled to find ways to communicate with both parents and children.
I'll be honest: at first, the differences overwhelmed us. We felt like we just couldn't keep up with all the different needs, languages, and cultural barriers between us. But then we began to focus on all the things about us that WERE NOT different.
all of our children needed loving smiles - language didn't stop that
all of our children required warm hugs - language didn't change that either
all of our children were in need of a safe place to learn and play
all of our children needed a place to belong
A sense of belonging is about relating to people and places, to beliefs and ideas, to ways of dressing, talking, playing, learning, laughing and crying.
- A Sense of Belonging, Woodhead, M. & Brooker, L.; Early Childhood Matters, November 2008.
With this small and precious insight, our entire focus changed. Children and families with different languages and cultures were not "other" than us, they were now a part of us, with us - they belonged to us. When we began to see them as ours rather than other everything changed. (read more about this on this previous blog: All Belong: Diversity As a Value at MSP)
Belonging is a two-way process. It is about a child’s needs and rights being recognised and met, about being protected and provided for, about feeling cared for, respected and included. It is also about having opportunities to express personal agency and creativity, about feeling able to contribute, to love and to care for others, to take on responsibilities and fulfill roles, to identify with personal and community activities, and to share in collective celebration.
- A Sense of Belonging, Woodhead, M. & Brooker, L., Early Childhood Matters, November 2008.
For MSP, this is part of our legacy and greater mission. We believe that creating a sense of belonging in the midst of difference and diversity requires intentionality and patience, but we are richer for our effort. We wouldn't trade the challenges we have faced as we incorporate many cultures and languages into our daily practices and communications. Afterall, we belong to them as much as they belong to us. We are members with each other in a new kind of kingdom that stands as witness to peace on Earth.