Two local education organizations are teaming up to host an event that aims to break down the meaning behind equity in education for young learners. In a partnership with the New Teacher Center, the Collaboration for Early Childhood will hold its first Early Childhood Equity Summit May 22 for educators, families, caregivers and community members.  

“Equity is about access,” said Heather Duncan, director of early learning at the collaboration, a nonprofit based in Oak Park that offers support, resources and information for area families and providers of children under 5 years old. “It’s about investigating who might be missing out in our community, figuring out who those folks are, how to find them and how to make sure they’re connected to our resources – and that’s a real tricky one.” 

“If folks are missing out, that means, for example, they’re not interacting with the collaboration and taking advantage of our resources,” she said. “If they’re not doing that, how do we know where they are? And that is an access and equity issue – that there are a number of people who know all about the collab and know exactly where to go to get the resources and then there’s a set of people who don’t.” 

Lisa Peloquin, instructional designer at the New Teacher Center, echoed Duncan’s sentiments. Peloquin said equity in the classroom could mean creating “high-quality” programs that are focused on children’s needs. One example of this is when teachers and families introduce young children to different vocabulary words. The more they create conversations around the words, the more students can associate meaning with the words and understand the world around them, Peloquin said.  

“Kiddos who are exposed and get a lot of rich vocabulary in early childhood are then better set up to understand more of the text that they read when they hit elementary school and have the vocabulary to make sense of those things,” said Peloquin. 

Those programs could also look like taking students on nontraditional field trips and teaching outside an academic curriculum, Duncan said. Reflecting on her decades-long career as a teacher, Duncan said she taught her students with an intention to “expand the possibility of thought” and believed that method of teaching dovetailed into her work toward racial equity. Again, it’s about meeting students where they are, she said. 

Duncan said the biggest misconception about “equity” is that some people may think it’s about measuring gains and losses. 

“That seems to be a lot of, in particular, white people’s issue: ‘If other people have equity, I am losing,’” she said. “That is not the case. We’re all just going to get what it is that we need. Nobody’s going to take your thing that you need away. Everybody just needs what they need. If we can get past that hurdle, I think we will be past that hurdle  for a lot of equity problems.” 

The equity summit – which will take place from 8:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. – will also include two panels and facilitated breakout sessions. One panel will explore equity around the Village of Oak Park and unveil the collaboration’s equity framework, while another discussion will focus on the importance of equity in an early childhood environment. Guest panelists include LaDon Reynolds, Oak Park police chief; Kira Tchang, the village’s human resources director; Rob Huber, of the Pilgrim Community Nursery School and many more. For the full list of the speakers, visit collab4kids.org. 

Sarai Coba-Rodriguez, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is one of the event’s featured guests. Like Duncan and Peloquin, she reiterated that equity is about access. 

“I don’t know if a lot of people really understand it,” she said, adding that it is about looking at the whole classroom and asking questions such as what the student-to-teacher ratio is and if teachers have enough supplies for their students and get the support they need from school administrators. 

“Do [schools] have social workers? Do they have case managers? Do they have a therapist?” asked Coba-Rodriguez. “And, if they don’t, do they have the connections to provide those resources to families and even for teachers?” 

These are all linked to understanding that “big word” – equity, Coba-Rodriguez said.  

As Coba-Rodriguez looked ahead to the May 22 event, she thought about what the summit stands for and the lessons she hopes participants and panelists alike learn. 

“In order for children and families to succeed, you need the partnership of everyone,” she said. “You need community. You need local policymakers, educators, teachers and social workers.” 

For more information on the Early Childhood Equity Summit or to register for the event, click here.

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