Chanelle Bell is an Early Childhood Education teacher in the Trumbull Park area of Chicago, just minutes from where she attended preschool. She reflects on how her college days prepared her for this new opportunity.
April 16, 2016
I once dreamt of performing theater under the brightest lights on the biggest stage. For me, the act of role-playing helped me develop empathy, and as I learned to express myself in new ways, acting made me more courageous. Theater is an opportunity to stand in someone else’s shoes, and it filled me with wonder. I could do all things.
Today, in the most important role of my life, I get to help 3- and 4-year-old students believe that they, too, can do all things. As a Pre-K teacher in the Trumbull Park area of Chicago, just minutes from where I attended preschool myself, my students are learning critical skills that aid in their long-term social and academic growth.
Whether it’s a mini-lesson plan involving the Pixar movie Inside Out, students preparing their own breakfast and lunch, or outdoors time, each activity we do is designed to foster a love of learning and jumpstart the transition into that of a successful and happy experience in school.
Throughout the course of this school year, my students have begun to better recognize who they are and the heroes they can become.
Their growth in this area was on full display just last week as the class designed superhero capes. In previous classes, we’ve explored the idea that role models aren’t just famous people; in most cases, they are the people right in front of us.
As students constructed individual capes and hung them from their youthful shoulders, none asked to be Superman or Wonder Woman, but instead remained true to their own identities with their individualized capes emblazoned with their own initials or names. To them, a superhero is essentially a super-friend—a strong and capable person who goes out of their way to help others. And that’s a role they can see themselves playing.
As we closed out the activity with a super-friend cheer designed to practice verbal skills, I couldn’t resist picturing my kids’ futures, and the limitless possibilities ahead of them, if they remain as strong and proud as they were in that moment.
This activity, like so many others we do in the classroom, empowers my 3 and 4-year-olds. Pre-K is an essential step that puts kids on the path of personal and educational development. These lessons can mean the difference between entering school at grade level or starting from behind, especially for kids from low-income and diverse backgrounds. The average student from a low-income background hears 30 million fewer words by age three than his or her peers.
However, research suggests that when a child has access to high-quality early childhood education they are more likely to develop critical thinking skills that benefit their in-school development and positively impact their future adult lives.
Even as early as 3 and 4 years old, the complexities of my kids’ environments and misperceptions about race, class and gender find a home in my classroom. When confronted with self-doubt and confusion I often ask my young students’ to look in the mirror and remind themselves: “My skin is beautiful, my hair is beautiful, because I’m beautiful.”
These inner conflicts as well as societal barriers will surely follow my students long after they leave my care but there is no better time than now, in their formative years, to help them develop the skills and courage to address these challenges moving forward.
All kids have bright boundless futures ahead of them and I’m confident exposure to early learning opportunities will put them on the path towards becoming the happy, healthy, and successful stars they’re capable of being.