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Reflecting Communities

The steady increase in diversity in the United States has been ongoing for the past few decades and shows no signs of slowing. In 2020, the Census revealed that the U.S. is now more diverse than ever, raising awareness about the importance of organizations reflecting the diverse makeup of the communities they serve. This debate is particularly strong in education, where we are shaping the next generation and preparing them to successfully navigate life and society in this changing environment. According to Northwest Missouri State University, “Early childhood is the ideal time to begin emphasizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Diversity goes beyond racial and ethnic backgrounds. It also includes gender, experiences, and abilities. No one person is a single story, even from a young age, as any early childhood education professional can tell you. It is essential to honor children, and their teachers, through varied materials and classroom experiences to improve outcomes for everyone. When young children encounter these differences, it helps them become well-rounded citizens, play a significant part in their world, have the ability to understand and communicate effectively with others and recognize and address biases as they grow.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) bestselling book, “Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves,” outlines the four core goals of anti-bias education and why it’s important to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all children. This focuses on inclusive and equitable learning opportunities embedded in the curriculum rather than occasional activities and discussions on general fairness. The goals aim to support children’s identities, promote their diversity, encourage their ability to identify injustice and be empowered to act against bias. As the NAEYC says, “If the classroom doesn’t reflect and validate their families and cultures, children may feel invisible, unimportant, incompetent, and ashamed of who they are.”

According to the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health, the benefits of promoting diversity in early childhood education programs reach beyond the relationship between children and their teachers but also include the relationship between teachers and families. Incorporating an anti-bias curriculum builds communication and trust and ultimately encourages learning between the two to further support the development of the child.

Representation can go a long way, leaving a lasting impact. For example, when young, impressionable children see or do not see themselves reflected in various environments, occupations, and situations, they may question what they can achieve. Representation in the classroom at an early age and throughout their academic journey can inspire more children to imagine themselves pursuing a career in early childhood education and feel empowered to reach their fullest potential.

A crucial step in reflecting communities in education is gaining an understanding of the community through relationships. No two communities are exactly alike, and CHS will strive to become deeply part of those systems and connections to enable each of its locations to build an inclusive, open culture that helps foster strong relationships between educators and families by making every child feel fully represented, included, understood, and accepted.

Pierre Nanterme, former Accenture CEO and leading advocate for creating a culture of equality, once said, “I want our future leaders to know what’s possible and to be part of a world where diversity and gender equality aren’t special programs but the natural way of operating.” Reflecting on our communities in the classroom is more than an administrative tool without cause or purpose. It is essential to prepare the next generation for the ever-changing world around us.

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Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning are subsidiaries of Milton Hershey School and will be staffed and operated independently of the Milton Hershey School core model.

Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.