The Universal Importance of Literacy in Learning

Horizons’ Jamaica Plain Early Education Center is thriving through the City of Boston’s Universal Pre-K (UPK) Program.  The literacy component of the curriculum has reframed how Horizons’ educators approach reading, vocabulary, writing, and comprehension in the classroom while simultaneously exciting teachers and students alike. A morning spent in the UPK program provided plenty of insight from classroom educators, Lisa Crowley and Greg Bien-Aime.

The new UPK curriculum puts more structure around literacy in the classroom.  One example is “read-alouds”, a four stage comprehensive process. What looks like a simple classroom story time comes with both theory and thought behind it. Under the UPK curriculum, the first classroom read-through of a new book encourages students to sustain focus and engagement. The second read-aloud helps children link main characters and events to emotions and motivations for empathy development. The third read-through allows the children to retell their story in their own language and understanding, and the fourth reading drives home all they’ve learned from the story including vocabulary and themes.

“As you go through it, you’re seeing the increasing awareness in each child – individually and as a whole group,” Lisa enthused.  “They’re using the vocabulary words in their everyday routines…on our walk today to the playground one of the children pointed and said ‘Oh look that building is tall just like the home we saw in the picture!”

“With literacy it’s really exciting to see the progress.” Greg added. “We ask them to use artwork to reflect some of what they learned from the books we’re reading. Some kids are staying between the lines, others are drawing big circles around the page but it goes with who they are, and once you see that you know what you need to work on.” Greg explained “Looking around the room at their artwork, I guarantee you’d be able to tell whose is who’s after spending some time with the children. It shows their individuality and where they are developmentally.”

The Universal Pre-K curriculum allows teachers to continue their focus on the rich social and emotional components of their work at Horizons that is essential for homeless children who have experienced trauma.

“I always say we’re seed planters here, but we never see the seeds grow.” Greg confided, regarding the important work they do in these formative years of a child’s development. “Trauma you remember, but when you have a good experience, it blends in with all the other great experiences. As much as I may want to be memorable, I know that if they don’t remember us, that’s ok. We remember them!”

For educators at Horizons, it’s humbling to understand the impact of their roles as they set their young students onto a path of lifetime learning. In conjunction with their work guiding children of trauma to enjoy their educational journey, the UPK program has truly enhanced the academic class structure for optimal development. It’s a win for the teachers who benefit from an expanse of resources, for the young students who thrive with a streamlined academic experience, and for the city of Boston as a whole. The program works to ensure the region’s youngest, most vulnerable residents have an equal chance to pursue an enriched, stable, and fulfilling life within their communities as they continue to learn and grow.

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