Going Global in Kindergarten

By Rebecca Weiner, guest blogger
It’s back to school time, time for little kids to learn big ideas about our complex world.    How can we ensure that along with ABCs and 1-2-3s, our kids gain the global awareness needed for an ever-more inter-connected future?

My daughter Sarah’s kindergarten at our local public school, Edgewood, offers some ideas.

First, the range of kids there echoes the wider world.  Many private schools talk up diversity, but talking and living it are different.  Sarah is learning in a classroom without a clear racial or ethnic majority, a world of have-nots as well as haves, where some kids started kindergarten reading independently while others struggle to recognize letters.  My husband and I chose to send her there in part because of that diversity, which we believe will enrich and strengthen her.  Judging by the variety of her new best friends:  so far, so good.

Second, Edgewood Principal Bonnie Pachesa leverages the school’s diversity by offering after-school space for a dizzying array of community activities, from Spanish Club to Irish dancing to Hip Hop class to International Night, which last year featured displays and potluck foods from some 40 countries and regions, made by families with global connections by birth, heritage or avocation.   If a key goal of education is to pique student interest in the world, Edgewood does that partly just by celebrating what it is.  Pachesa’s welcoming environment brings in family resources that help students learn.

Third, Edgewood is an arts-integrated magnet school, which means lots of whole-kid hands-on learning with paint and clay and dance.  Sarah’s class is a colorful haven from the test-aholism that in so many schools is banning recess and assigning kindergartners homework handouts.  Her teacher Ann Donnery, passionate about early childhood development, says: “Kindergartners need to move.  They get interested in the world by manipulating it.”  So Donnery hands out no homework, but lots of puzzles, games, math blocks, and other manipulatives – many including maps and other content that encourages awareness of the world.

Fourth, Edgewood is one of two Tier I local schools selected to pilot greater curriculum autonomy under a new school reform initiative led by the mayor.  Pachesa has welcomed the arts-centered curriculum developed by the Yale Center for British Art (yes, it helps that Edgewood is down the road from that famous educational “neighbor”).  The “Visual Literacy Curriculum” (led by a museum educator who is also an Edgewood parent) uses art as a springboard to reading, writing, discussions of history and culture and perspective, and more art.  Donnery, after 28 years in early childhood education, describes being “amazed” at watching how a painting or sculpture can become a “doorway” for kids into another world, culture, time.

Fifth, Pachesa has welcomed parents to bring broader interests to the school day as well as after-schol clubs – in town meetings, writer’s workshops, and afternoon “specials” for older kids that include a geography club and foreign language options.

Not everything  that happens at Edgewood is replicable everywhere.  The school’s “attendance zone”  includes a range of neighborhoods; over half the students are “economically disadvantaged.”  But many Edgewood families are educated, enough to help create critical mass.

Nor is Edgewood perfect; the arts-integrated curriculum has not yet stretched far enough to include early-childhood foreign language education, so a major window of opportunity is being missed.

But the “Edgewood model” works well enough for the school to place among the top in city test scores, homework handouts or no, and be competitive at the state level.  Students from Edgewood have gone on to do well at high schools and colleges, including Yale.  Celebrating diversity and the arts and building a strong community of parental involvement are keys to Edgewood’s success, keys that could unlock greater success at preparing global citizens at many schools today.

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