All her life, Kati Vaughn (Los Angeles '09) knew that she wanted to work with children. She shares her renewed passion for early childhood education during the Week of the Young Child.
April 21, 2016
Last week, we celebrated the Week of the Young Child, which honors young children and highlights the critical importance of early learning. As I reflect on the week, I recall when I was first exposed to the joy and power of early learning through my mother, who taught preschool for many years. I have fond memories of visiting her classroom during my own school years, playing with her two- and three-year-olds, listening as she shared updates and resources with parents during dismissal time. Thanks to her example, I’ve known all my life that I wanted to work with children. Teach For America (TFA) was the perfect opportunity to combine this passion for early learning with my deep-rooted commitment to service and social justice.
As a TFA corps member (Los Angeles ’09), I taught at Lennox State Preschool, a dual language Head Start center serving children age three through five and their families. I fell in love with my students, and with the work. When I think about my experience in the classroom, my mind goes to Raymond, the sweetest four-year-old you could imagine—he brought me “flowers” (dandelions) every day of the school year. I also think of his mother, Desiree, who was a fierce advocate for her four children. My colleagues, many of whom had been teaching, serving, and loving children and families from the Lennox community for ten years or longer, were my allies, my confidants, my mentors.
I currently serve as a teacher coach supporting TFA’s early childhood and lower elementary teachers in D.C. and Prince George’s County. It is a true privilege to be able to be in classrooms each and every day, not only helping teachers bring their best selves to their classrooms but also getting to know our incredibly brilliant students in schools across the region.
Early learning is an essential component of school readiness, and later, both academic and personal success. Children who attend preschool are likely to develop critical social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, impulse control, and empathy; studies have also indicated a correlation with positive outcomes in adulthood, such as higher salaries and even homeownership. Thanks to a growing body of research, we know how beneficial early learning can be for children, families, and communities; the focus, now, must be on increasing access to high-quality early childhood education. Here in D.C., families are fortunate to have access to public preschool, and we are currently first in the nation for preschool enrollment, with 70% of three-year-olds and 99% of four-year-olds in classrooms across the city.
In partnership with schools and community-based organizations across the country, Teach For America is committed to enhancing high quality early learning opportunities for children. During the 2014-2015 school year, 300 Teach For America corps members were teaching more than 6,000 young students across the country. Currently, out of 569 D.C. Region alumni who continue to teach, nearly 25% are pre-kindergarten teachers. Just last week, alum Ryan Tauriainen – who served as a 2008 corps member in Hawaii, and is currently the principal of AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School – was named The Washington Post’s Principal of the Year.