Pre-K Summer Learning Program helps give racialized students a voice
By Hilary Caton, Communications Officer
At the age of four, while shopping for formal dresses Bethany Williams asked her mother, “why are there no pictures of Black women?”
Her mother, Donna Broomfield, was shocked she picked up on the lack of representation at such a young age. That’s why when she was told about the Toronto District School Board’s Inspired to Excel Africentric Pre-Kindergarten Summer Learning Program, she jumped at the chance to enroll her daughter.
In fact, all four of her children attended the program. Her two youngest daughters were enrolled in the program and her two eldest daughters were volunteers.
The Inspired to Excel program focuses on supporting young children’s transition into formal schooling within a culturally relevant and responsive academic framework. Over the course of four weeks, young learners with the help of their parents, build self-confidence, self-awareness, a sense of self-identity and develop a foundation for academic success in preparation to enter the school system.
This is accomplished through arts-based learning experiences and inquiry-based activities, such as exploring the origin of their names and creating self-portraits. On the academic side, children are taught the fundamentals of math, science and literacy through meaningful play-based learning. All while purposefully engaging parents, caregivers and community partners. Parents were provided with the opportunity to be part of the program in various ways, including as special guests and as classroom helpers that supported students with in-class activities (pre-pandemic), such as gardening.
“My children learned so much from this program. They were engaged in various learning experiences that leveraged racial and cultural identities as well as learning about the identities of others. They saw a different side of their culture; a strong and intelligent side reflected through books, lessons, and community experiences. This program strived to focus on the positives rather than the negatives,” says Broomfield.
“The program gave them a voice to explore questions about their identity. It also provided them with the skills and the vocabulary to advocate for themselves and others in a safe space.”
The program was created in 2014 as a pilot project by four Black women at the TDSB Director of Education, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, Superintendent Sheryl Robinson Petrazzini, Principal Darlene Avis-Pottinger and the Centrally Assigned Principal for the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement, Karen Murray.
Inspired to Excel began as part of the TDSB’s strategy to support the success of Black students. It was originally offered in just four schools, but since then has expanded to 13 TDSB schools.
Over the years, this free pre-kindergarten summer learning program has evolved into two programs― Inspired to Excel Africentric Pre-Kindergarten Summer Learning Program and the Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pre-Kindergarten Summer Learning Program. Both programs are interwoven and have been popular since its inception says Anastasia Poulis, Centrally Assigned Principal of Transforming Student Learning and Equity, Engagement, Well-being and Leadership.
“Parents are interested in enrolling their child in this specific program, because of the focus on identity, because of the focus on culture, because of the high respect and honouring of family,” says Poulis.
“Those are elements of the program that we stipulate from the very beginning to families and it resonates.”
After seeing how much her children were learning from the program, Broomfield wanted to be a part of it in a professional capacity. She’s now is an educator for the program at Alexander Sterling PS, helping other children develop their sense of self-identity, self-confidence and self-awareness though meaningful learning experiences.
“This program has worked to not only give students of colour a voice, but their parents too. Parents are learning that they too have a lot to contribute to the process of their child's learning,” explains Broomfield.
“I have one more child left to go through the school system. He is three years old. This program gives me hope that my Black son will have a voice and be able to see himself in the learning space he becomes a part of in the future.”