I thought I was an ally
I thought I was liberal, progressive, even. I thought that being kind to all people — different, similar; darker, lighter; richer, poorer; native, immigrant; younger, older; more educated, less educated — was enough. I thought I, a financially secure, cisgendered, married, heterosexual white woman, was an ally.
Then our children started attending Friends of St Francis — a full-day childcare center in San Francisco, where half the children pay tuition on a sliding scale, and half receive partial or full tuition support through subsidies — and my eyes were opened.
We had just un-enrolled from a Waldorf-based in-home preschool that was lovely — homemade cinnamon-scented baked goods every morning, chickens in the yard, a harp player every Tuesday. It also had limited hours, parent participation, a long list of supplies families had to furnish, and frequent unanticipated closures. All families had one parent at home, or parents with flexible jobs, or a nanny. All families were white.
One of the first things I observed at our new preschool was the boisterous play among the children, and that children weren’t segregating themselves by likeness. I later learned that the teachers and staff thoughtfully orchestrate this through partner, small-group, and large-group activities. The children get to know one another and seek each other out for play.
I heard many languages and accents in the air, from children and adults, and I saw the children understanding it all perfectly.
I saw how attached a brown-skinned girl was to a brown-skinned doll and the easy comfort a white-skinned girl had with another dark-skinned doll. To the one child, the likeness mattered; to the other child, it didn’t seem to. And all of that matters in shaping an inclusive mindset.
At Friends of Saint Francis, diversity and inclusion is by design, from the students it enrolls to the staff it employs to the learning materials it curates to the interactions it facilitates. As the school year unfolded, I kept learning. Here are more examples:
Situation: Children look forward to Halloween with heightened anticipation. But not all families have the time, money, or familiarity with American customs to buy or make a costume.
The inclusive way: The students themselves make costumes out of humble materials such as paper bags, construction paper, paint, and feathers. The 2-year-olds were cats, the 3-year-olds were bumblebees, and the 4-year-olds were butterflies. The costumes were tied into hands-on learning experiences in the school’s backyard.
Situation: It’s well known that books in the home foster literacy. But not all families have a culture of reading, a habit of going to the library, or access to books in their native languages.
The inclusive way: Story Cycles book bags are sent home with the students every Thursday, and families return them every Tuesday. Over that long weekend families have access to four age-appropriate books with compelling pictures and multicultural stories. Books are in English, some in Spanish or Chinese, some in both a foreign language and English. For underrepresented minorities, seeing stories from their cultures in their languages is validating.
Situation: Working families need child care that is reliable and comprehensive.
The inclusive way: The doors are open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, allowing for a full work day and commute. There are enough teachers on staff and on the substitute-teacher roster to allow for full coverage, back-up care in case of teacher absence, and appropriate breaks during the workday to allow the teachers to be at their best. Even parent education meetings include dinner and childcare.
In this community, we believe:
- Diversity and inclusion are crucial to a thriving San Francisco
- Inclusion benefits ALL community members
- The only way to combat systemic inequality is through systemic inclusion
Systemic inclusion goes beyond being friendly to people who are different from you. It means changing the way things are done, so that all people have access to opportunities.
If you agree and would like to support this institution that does so much good for young children and their families, you can make a tax-deductible cash donation here. Or if you are local to San Francisco and have supplies you think a preschool could use (art supplies, plants, books, toys), please email me at ReadySetMoms@gmail.com with details. We would appreciate your contributions.
Let’s keep the conversation going. I welcome your perspective on ways to foster diversity and inclusion in our families’ lives.