It is hard to believe that, here in Philadelphia, providing universal pre-K or full day kindergarten is a debatable reality. Not a foregone conclusion. Not part of a comprehensive plan for public education in this Commonwealth. Still a debated, underfunded, pie-in-the-sky vision for our children.
My mother was a kindergarten teacher at Mildred Green Elementary School in the Anacostia section of Southeast DC when she found out that she was pregnant with me. She lived daily trying to improve the literacy and potential of children whose parents, for many varied socioeconomic reasons, did not read to them at night or engage them in thoughtful conversation to improve their vocabularies and comprehension. And because my mom dealt with the problem on the front lines, she and my father made an affirmative decision to send me to private school. Naylor Road Elementary, a K-5 school mere minutes from where my mother taught, was like a learning nirvana to me. There was a pool where I was taught to swim as a regular part of my pre-K activities. There were French lessons. Some German too, because my kindergarten teacher was actually German. Spanish in first grade because my teacher was Colombian. Naylor Road was an oasis that nurtured little Black child potential in all kinds of foundational, beautiful ways. It was an investment my parents saw as essential to my development, and I am forever grateful.
In Ghana, our media delegation was invited to visit an award-winning educational program in the city of Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Nation. Prempeh School runs from pre-K all the way through undergraduate university studies within the same complex, dividing the students into age-appropriate groupings in various buildings on the grounds. It is designed to nurture each child all the way through their learning process and successfully into their professional careers.
During our visit, the group was able to witness firsthand how Prempeh, in consultation with the Israeli government, has designed a learning methodology that uplifts the students’ native culture and challenges them to be prepared for global economic opportunities. Upon arrival at school, each student is taken through an agility exercise before entering the classroom. In addition to building hand-eye coordination, the physical exercise helps to burn off some of the young children’s excessive energy and does not sacrifice their physical fitness for intellectual skill. The goal is to create well-balanced, accomplished students.
In America, we often complain about large class size as a deterrent from learning. But at Prempeh, though the class sizes are substantial, there is a systemic approach to the material and a well-oiled machine of discipline that guide’s each lesson. Children dance and sing, move about the room, respond to teacher’s questions and work in small groups in a surprisingly orderly manner, especially given their young age. Life skills are combined with more academic pursuits, and it is clear to visitors like me that by integrating material, students are able to easily see the practical use for what they learn.
Here in Philadelphia, as we struggle to give children a strong sense of self in their curriculum, show them learning as a pathway to success and personal excellence, and properly staff and fund schools to deliver on any such promises, we voting citizens should all have an example like Naylor Road or Prempeh as a standard for how it can be done. Love. Learning. Fun. Commitment. Resources.
It ain’t rocket science, but it sure could lead to it, if done well.