Great Start Collaborative to host training on diversity, equity

CASSOPOLIS — One area organization is putting its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom at the forefront of a community training next month.

Great Start Collaborative of Cass County, a partnership of community leaders, business owners, charitable and faith-based organizations, health and human service agencies, educators and parents working together to provide resources to Cass County families to ensure childhood success, will host a community training on diversity and equity in early childhood education titled “Shades of People” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 14. The training, which is limited to 12 teaching teams from licensed early childhood programs in Cass County, will offer an interactive study of diversity through the lens of early childhood. Training materials will be incorporated from “Teaching Tolerance: Starting Small” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as other resources.

The training is being hosted during Week of the Young Child, sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

After the training, each teaching team will receive $250 of Lakeshore materials and books to promote the study of diversity with young children in Cass County. Participants will also be asked to submit photos of their work in the classroom after the training to produce a collaborative community photo journal.

Anna Carter, Great Start Collaborative director, said the idea was presented to Great Start’s equity workgroup in March by Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Director of Early Childhood Education Chris Whitmire. The goal of the training will be to provide teaching teams with the tools and skills necessary to teach children about diversity, equity and inclusion. The training will be focused on teaching students ages 3 to 5 years old.

“This is something we really needed,” Carter said. “This is teaching our children early on about diversity and how important it is to be inclusive in the classroom.”

“I think last year what really came to light were the issues regarding equity in education, and our focus is early education,” Whitmire added. “We’ve been looking at how we can meet the needs of everyone in our community in a way that recognizes and respects everyone and their cultures. One idea we had was to provide a study of similarities and differences in people, and it’s called ‘Shades of People.’”

The “Shades of People” exercise that will be taught during the training will teach children to make self-portraits, and at the same time, discuss with classmates their similarities and differences.

“It’s a lot of discussion about who we are as human beings and who is important to us and our families, and it brings to light the beauty of every culture and every community,” Whitmire said. “This training will both help teach children, but also teach their educators.”

Both Whitmire and Carter said teaching Cass County’s youngest students about diversity, equity and inclusion is important to make the community a welcoming space for all people.

“[Young children] are open to the world,” Whitmire said. “If we can help explore our differences and how they present themselves in other people, I think that helps break down any kind of barriers we have or biases. In the end, it helps build a stronger community.”

If the community training is successful, Carter said Great Start would consider bringing it back again next year.

“We want this to spread,” Carter said. “Each classroom team will take this back and share it with others. … My vision is to see families really join in and be a part of this.”

Qualified professionals can call (269) 445-6283 for more information or to register for the program.

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