Diversity. Happiness. Community. Reliability.
The pandemic has changed life for all of us here at Grace, including how the teachers at The Community Preschool approach learning and building community.
Over the past six months teachers, students and families transitioned to online learning back at the start of the shelter-in-place mandate. Following public health guidelines, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing, students were able to return to on-site learning back in late August after five months away. Now, with a focus on public health and safety like never before, The Community Preschool held its first all school zoom parent gathering to see how COVID was impacting families. It was about asking questions, and listening.
“We focused on how we can build authentic community together, especially in a pandemic,” says Brooke Giesen, Community Preschool Director. At the beginning of the meeting Ms. Giesen asked the parents to anonymously participate in a poll and answer one simple question: What do you expect from a school? At the end of her presentation, she asked again, more specifically: What do you expect from this school? The responses were beautiful, meaningful and upended a lot of the typical American top down models of what school “should” be.
“Social,” “exploration,” and “creativity” were words that families expected from schools. Specifically relating to Grace Cathedral Community Preschool, families expected “diversity,” “happiness,” “community,” and “reliability,” to name just a few.
A Focus on Family
“We all need support,” says Ms. Giesen, “regardless of socio-economic status.” Looking over the words the families put together, the Community Preschool’s mission — to provide a program that addresses the emotional, social, artistic, language, literacy, motor skills, scientific inquiry and critical thinking skills of every child — becomes even clearer. “For us to be a truly inclusive, participatory and supportive program for not only our students, but almost more importantly, their families, we must build it together, intentionally.”
To build that program “requires trust, vulnerability and safety.” To ensure the program meets those requirements, all preschool staff have been trained in a program called Strengthening Families’ Protective Factors, a think piece on love and belonging, not just “tolerance,” and a blog post from The Greater Good about the importance of connecting with strangers.
“We, as the school must build [this program] with the families in order for us all to truly be able to share, support and lift up each other,” says Ms. Giesen. “We all need it.”