Steven Askar credits his scholars, school team for all their hard work
June 1, 2017
Steven Askar says he almost always gets two responses when he tells people he teaches early childhood education. First, That’s so cute. Second, That’s daycare, right? For the past two years he’s been setting people straight. Yes, it is cute. He starts each day with 20 of the best hugs. And no, this is not day care. It is the first step toward college.
“My scholars aren’t just being watched or taken care of, they are here every day working on rigorous learning objectives, socio-emotional development and building community connections.”
Case in point: When the San Diego community was rocked by the police-involved shooting of a black man, he processed the news with his four-year-old students in an age-appropriate way. They brainstormed characteristics of police officers (95 percent thought officers were men) and made a list of questions they had about the shooting. Steven invited a neighborhood officer to school (she surprised the kids by being a woman) to answer the questions. A child whose father is serving life without parole asked: Why do you lock up people forever? Another child asked: Why do you hurt people when you are supposed to protect them?
“This was my attempt to connect students with their community and provide access to a leader they hadn't had before. We didn't achieve closure, but we are continuing important conversations,” he said.
This student-centered, community-based approach prompted Steven to be named the Early Childhood Educator of the Year for 2017 by the San Diego Association for the Education of Young Children. The award is presented annually to an educator who embodies the organization’s vision for early childhood education.
Steven says he owes the award to the hard work of his 20 “little people” and support of other teachers and administrators. Here is an excerpt of his award-winning essay.
My Vision for ECE
By Steven Askar
Just a week ago a four-year-old student tapped me on the arm, beckoned me down to her level and whispered with complete sincerity, “I want the superhero power of learning!” As a preschool student, she is striving to become a first-generation college graduate, to break free from the cyclical bonds of poverty, and to create a lasting impact on the world. I am in the field of education because of the millions of children like her who would benefit from access to an excellent education.
To promote high-quality early learning for all children, it’s essential to leverage the inherent assets of the broader community. Through the collaborative efforts of teachers, parents, administrators, and community members, I have seen students who could never form two word utterances become so adept at speaking that they offered their own preschool graduation commencement speech. I have observed students unable to play in large-group settings become circle-time leaders whom contribute to a culture of joy. I have witnessed students trade in punches for hugs and harsh words for uplifting praises.
These varying instances of growth, together with many other examples of positive change, have come about primarily from focused planning sessions, where school team members come together and discuss meaningful ways to help students grow. These planning sessions are then translated into action, where lessons and unit plans become the foundation for student growth. There’s never been a challenge too big, where I haven’t been able to turn to a team member for help and ask the simple question, “What would you do in this situation?”