It had been two weeks since Terri Anderson, a teacher at The Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, had seen her 19 prekindergarten students in person. But on a recent Friday, they met virtually for the first time on Google Hangouts. The result: a cacophony of 4- and 5-year-olds on unmuted microphones.
“It was the best sound I had heard since all this had happened,” she said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the educational system nationwide, even preschool has gone online. But school closures threaten to undo some of the progress that Indiana has made toward improving pre-K access for low-income families to help bridge critical early learning gaps.
Many pre-K classrooms have temporarily closed alongside K-12 schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, demand has waned at some Indiana child care centers as more families are keeping their children home. The loss of pre-K classrooms has consequences: First, education advocates fear that school closures will worsen the disparities for students across all grades who don’t have access to technology and whose families have fewer resources to support learning at home. Second, families could find themselves without child care as they continue to work during the pandemic in roles such as health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, and custodians.
“One of the most important things children learn in a pre-K classroom is how to do school, how to behave with other children, how to self-regulate and be ready to learn,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, a nonprofit that provides and advocates for early education. “That’s one of the things that’s going to be harder for families to achieve independently.”
Because Indiana families have a lot of choices for where to go for preschool — districts, private schools, centers, homes, child care ministries — providers are tackling the challenge in different ways, both online and off-line.
At The Oaks, Anderson wanted the recent video meeting to be a joyful reunion for her pre-K class. She incorporated pieces of their daily routine, such as taking attendance with popsicle sticks that each had a student’s name. When she drew a student’s popsicle stick, she asked them to show the class a toy or something they had made at home, giving each a turn to speak “on the big screen.”
Anderson had them all hug their computers and give themselves hugs, too, wrapping their arms around their own shoulders.
“They need to be nurtured,” Anderson said. “They need a touch. They need a hug.”
Moving pre-K classrooms into the home also means teachers are supporting parents so they don’t feel stressed about their children “losing ground,” Anderson said. Teachers and instructional assistants regularly check in with individual students and families. The Oaks gives preschoolers 1-2 hours of learning each day, and more important than completing the work is instilling a sense of normalcy, she added. A lot of the key lessons are simple: Listen, follow directions, pay attention.
At first, parent Kelly McGary was worried when her son Sam’s preschool, Cooperative Play Academy on the city’s southside, closed its doors in early March. Sam had just learned to hold a pencil properly.
But now she’s less concerned after watching him video conference with his preschool class twice a week, and do engaging homework assignments, such as nature walks.
“I just have to put it in perspective. He’s 3½, he’ll be fine,” said McGary, a public health nurse. “Even if it lasts a few more months, we’re still interacting with him and providing for him. He has a safe place to play. I think he just misses his friends.”
At the Edna Martin Christian Center in Martindale-Brightwood, the approach to at-home learning has evolved over the last few weeks since the child care ministry temporarily closed its doors, said Alexandra Hall, director of early childhood education.
Teachers started by sending food home with students on the first day. Then, they started sharing learning resources. They gave students kits filled with art supplies, reusable writing worksheets, stories, and bubbles. Later, they decided they wanted to find a way to stay in touch with students in a dynamic, interactive way.
That’s how they started a series of 30-minute Zoom sessions throughout the day, mimicking a regular school routine.
“We figured if it works for adults, why wouldn’t it work with kids?” Hall said.
They hold virtual circle time and snack time. Families all gather for the video call with a healthy snack to show and share.
“That is what has just truly been a godsend during this time — to be able to look at people, even though you can’t touch them,” Hall said.
The online setting still allows teachers to be responsive to students. Just like in the classroom, “sometimes you have to throw your plan out the window,” Hall said — like when a student joined the video call in a superhero costume, prompting a show-and-tell that overshadowed the scheduled science lesson.
Even when e-learning isn’t as accessible, pre-K classrooms are finding ways to keep learning. For the five Indianapolis sites of St. Mary’s Child Center, where 93% of children come from low-income families, administrators are mostly focused on basic needs, such as directing families toward food resources.
Teachers are posting videos where they read stories, sing songs, or go on scavenger hunts. They’re encouraging families to find “teachable moments” but aren’t stressing academics.
“Children are such natural learners,” said Diane Pike, director of outreach and professional development. “If they are allowed to explore and communicate and ask questions and have that support at home, they’re going to be OK for kindergarten.”
The other day I got an email from a friend on how he was getting frustrated and tired of reading books and hearing lectures on Eurocentric theology and church history. He wanted to have some color injected into his Bible college and seminary education.
It’s a story I’m all too familiar with. By the end of seminary, most people are screaming at the top of their lungs, “Let me out!” But they press on anyway because they know they have a calling and they know this is the path God has them on in order to equip them. This is even more true for those students who are of non-white ethnicity. The seminary is a far cry from their home culture and the things taught there are taught from a predominantly white historical and theological perspective. Consequently, you can feel like you are being brainwashed or indoctrinated into whiteness or at the very least just made to feel like an oddball or invisible because your experience is different from a lot of the other students. I’ve been there. And I would have lost my mind if it weren’t for these principles working themselves out in my life intentionally or unintentionally.
1. Remember why you are there
You are there because you are called. You are here because you want to soak up the knowledge to make you effective in ministry. You are there to connect with like-minded folk who may one day partner with you in ministry. Do not let the overwhelming whiteness take you off course. Learn. Soak it in. Grow.
2. Make two sets of notes
There are two sets of notes to take. Notes for the paper you will write and notes for yourself (Shout out to MK Asante). Some things will be helpful for your academic career but other things will help as you take your seminary training back home.
3. Find the alternative books
When I first started attending Fuller Theological Seminary I had the privilege of working in the library. As I put the books back on the shelves I learned about James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez and so many others. I began reading those books even before I started classes because they spoke from a perspective I understood and was familiar with. Just the exposure alone helped me to tackle some of the lack of diversity I was experiencing.
4. Find like-minded students
There is always, at least, a handful of students of color on any campus. If you can’t find students of color then there are many white students who understand where you are coming from. Reach out and connect. It may be the best thing you have ever done.
5. Find like-minded professors
In an attempt to make their faculties more diverse, most seminaries and Christian universities have hired at least two or three non-white professors who teach from a different perspective. Go and take their classes if you have the opportunity. If you can’t take their classes then find some way to connect with them. They understand your experience and are rooting for your success. Personally, I found Dr. Ralph Watkins and Dr. Jehu Hanciles. Just their teaching and course content helped me to not lose my mind!
6. Ask thought-provoking questions
Don’t just sit in class like a lump on a log. Ask questions—thought-provoking questions. Not solely to cause trouble. Ask questions from your unique ethnic and socio-economic perspective. It will not only bless you but also those in class around you who may be going into these contexts or just those who need to have their world expanded
7. Keep a vital and dynamic relationship with God
Last but not least, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop reading your Bible. Remember this isn’t about ethnicity. This is about God’s calling on your life.
What about you do you have any other tips to include? What was your experience in seminary like? How did you keep from losing your mind?
Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.
They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.
They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.
The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.
God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.
If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?
There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”
Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances?Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.
When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.
I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.
Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.
March is Reading Awareness Month and a fitting time to discuss literacy in the United States, particularly among urban and minority families.
The impacts of literacy begin at a very young age—reading to children increases their vocabulary skills and improves reading comprehension. Faltering literacy rates among youth have a dramatic impact on where we end up later in our lifetimes.
Statistics provided by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, say that two-thirds of kids who aren’t reading well in fourth grade will end up on welfare or in jail and have a 78% chance of not catching up to their reading benchmarks. Sixty percent of juvenile delinquents and 80% of adult inmates are illiterate.
The Value of Education
Although learning disabilities (such as Dyslexia and ADHD) can impair one’s ability to read fluently or at a higher grade level, Clark Atlanta University professor Torrance Stephens says poverty often leads to illiterate youth and adults. “[One of the] main misconceptions is that these people don’t value education,” says Stephens, who has worked in public health and education and with minority literacy in the US and Africa for 30 years.
“What I have found is that from the elderly black and white women I worked with in my earlier years, to the women of child-bearing age I worked with in Nigeria, to the ex-felons, they all valued education and knew its importance. But in each case, economic factors led them to leave their formal education.”
Stephens, who has published several books including The Legacy of the Bush-Obama Keynesian Dialect and Income Inequality in America, remembers an elderly African American woman explaining how she left school in fourth grade to sharecrop and help her family. Her story is similar to that of many ex-convicts he has worked with who indicate, “they had to assist in providing for their families, thus school would have to be a loss and they hit the streets hustling.”
The National Commission on Adult Literacy says that reading from a young age is one way to keep our society from losing the important skill of reading. A report published in March 2015 by the Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends showed that 80% of blacks had visited a library or bookmobile in their lifetime compared to 83% of whites. But with high school graduation rates topping out at roughly 50% in urban areas, it’s clear that frequency among racial and economic groups are not the same.
College graduates and those with household incomes over $100,000 are most likely to frequent a public library. Children who don’t have examples of avid readers in their life are less likely to become literate on their own.
It may appear strange that literacy is still inaccessible to some Americans in an age where the Internet has brought so much content to our fingertips—content which usually must be read. The vast majority of Americans from the poorest urban areas to high-scale suburbs have cell phones, granting them access to a gold mine of information, but Stephens suggests that real-world examples are still missing.
“In this instant culture dominated by emoji’s and 140-character thought spaces, reading—real reading—that requires thinking and comprehension takes a back seat. The challenge of getting people to read in an increasingly television-dominated culture is a major difficulty,” he says.
“I saw everybody around me reading daily; everyone had a library card and we were in the library weekly. I know parents tell their kids to read, but I don’t know if we as African Americans really encourage our kids to read, or even set the example. I suspect if you tell your kids to read, and watch the NBA or some music awards show, they will replicate your behavior and learn by example, especially if they never see you pick up a book.”
Making a Difference
The Read Aloud campaign challenges parents to read to their kids for 15 minutes every night before bed, something that 13 million children won’t experience on a daily basis. The 10-year campaign challenges families to “Read Aloud for 15 Minutes. Every Child. Every Parent. Every day.”
It’s an important task that sounds simple but can be incredibly difficult in an urban home where one or both parents may not be present and problems in the surrounding area can negatively affect the learning environment. There are also countless programs geared toward reading awareness and combating illiteracy, including AmeriCorps, Literacy Partners, The Wallace Foundation, and local programs run by state and city governments.
Over 2 million New Yorkers alone cannot read, which limits employment opportunities, quality of life, and makes it virtually impossible to pass good reading habits to children. Stephens says that many people believe literacy programs are daunting, but taking classes at a local program is a great way to overcome the challenge of illiteracy. Many programs are volunteer-run, and always in need of more hands.
This March, contact your local library or government and ask about ways to get involved with your community’s literacy efforts. Help promote a literacy campaign, give to a reading organization, or become a tutor. The Literacy Information and Communication System has an online directory that lists reading advocacy programs in your area.
Why is reading awareness so important? “A country’s wealth is almost directly related to a country’s literacy rate,” Stephens explains. “Literacy is the ability to read and write, which are strong predictors of individual monetary worth and future lifelong earning potential. Two, literacy is a very strong protective factor against getting arrested and/or involved with the criminal justice system. On an individual level, greater literacy is positively associated with increased cognitive development such as better problem-solving ability which means the more reading exposure the longer brainactivity will remain robust.”
As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.
1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.
2. Home by Toni Morrison
The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.
3. How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.
4. God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.
5. The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates
From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.
6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Citizenis an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”
7. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.
8. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.
9. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.
10. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.
11. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals
In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.