Drs. Fabienne Doucet and Jennifer Adair recently co-edited the Bank Street College of Education’s Occasional Paper Series #39: Supporting Young Children of Immigrants in PreK-3. The six essays highlight how educators can make early childhood programs more equitable by focusing on institutional challenges and incorporating the knowledge and capabilities of immigrant families and communities. On the Ground had the opportunity to ask Drs. Doucet and Adair about their timely series.
You make a strong argument for using strength based approaches in working with immigrant communities. When working with educators and researchers, how do you introduce the differences between “strength based” and “deficit-oriented” approaches?
As educators and researchers, we are unfortunately trained to look for problems that need to be solved instead of working with parents and communities to learn their strengths and concerns. We are taught and even pressured to worry about what children don’t know or what they can’t do. For example, we may notice that some parents don’t read to their children at bedtime, and we fear this will hamper the children’s literacy development. So we create an intervention to get parents to read to their children more. On the surface, these interventions may seem well intentioned. However, all too often, these well-intentioned concerns are rooted in unexamined assumptions about children and families, and this is especially true when those children and families come from racially, culturally, linguistically, socioeconomically, and otherwise marginalized and disempowered groups.
Without getting to know families and letting them help define success, we base success on what those in power or in historically privileged communities (and so in positions of power) want for children. Then our ideas about what young children of color should know and be able to do are based on the things researchers or educators (both groups overwhelmingly White) do with their children. So when young children of color don’t meet the standard, they are assumed to be the problem. Our biggest issue is that instead of being curious about all of the ways in which parents living in poverty do engage their young children in learning about the world, we focus on the lack of bedtime reading or another minor White way of engaging children. Another dangerous characteristic of deficit-framing is it tends to mistake the consequences of long-standing, systemic inequities for individual deficits or lacks.
The papers in this issue address very deep-rooted structural inequities, and also shift the burden from families and children to institutions. If policymakers or school administrators reach out to you after they read this issue, what might you recommend to them as a practical first step in starting down the path of this work?
A practical first step would be for them to take an honest and critical inventory of the policies and practices guiding the schools and/or programs they lead, and to determine which of those policies and practices acknowledge, build upon, and reflect the strengths, talents, interests, and resources of the children, families, and communities they serve. This process might be facilitated with input from members of the community they serve who can provide honest feedback about what is working and what stands to be improved. We, along with our co-authors, argue that if a program is not built upon or co-constructed with community strengths it will always fail and maintain overall disparities.
Are there successful examples of educators transforming deficit-oriented approaches into strength based approaches?
In their essay, Building Bridges Between Home and School for Latinx Families of Preschool Children, Dr. Gigliana Melzi, Dr. Adina Schick and Lauren Scarola describe their Reading Success Using Co-Constructive Elaborative Storytelling Strategies (R-SUCCESS) program, which asks teachers to incorporate at-home oral storytelling practices into classroom “circle-time” routines. Folding this at-home practice into classroom practices can support a child’s vocabulary diversity and comprehension skills and is a great example of adding a strength-based approach to classroom practices.
In terms of transformation, the article by Alejandra Barraza and Pedro Martinez is really interesting for a couple of reasons. First, since Barraza is a principal and Martinez is a superintendent, the piece presents the perspective of administrators — one we rarely hear. Second, the article tells the story of how the Carroll Early Childhood Center moved from rote, academic learning strategies to project-based learning approaches that, as the authors put it, “prioritize children’s curiosity.” They present seven early learning principles that guide the curricular and programmatic decisions of the Carroll Early Childhood Center
There are many great examples of strength-based approaches throughout this special issue and out in the world, and we need to amplify these stories on the road to transforming our approaches to supporting the young children of immigrants.
Visit the Bank Street website to read Supporting Young Children of Immigrants in PreK-3.