Early Childhood Program (ECP) lead teacher Diana is working to nurture young learners. With an intense focus on English language comprehension, Diana teaches three- and four-year-old students the skills they need to prepare for kindergarten.
Diana faces this task with compassion and care. Because students are coming from non-English speaking households, Diana says, “We’re defining the world for them in a new language.” While some students play games on tablets and phones to learn introductory skills, she says they are not learning to express themselves with their new language. When they enter Diana’s classroom, they are introduced to tactile games that teach them letters, numbers, shapes and colors. As students learn to identify objects and directions in English, their personalities emerge.
One student who attended the three-year-old class during the 2021-22 school year arrived with very little English. He struggled to take turns nicely and didn’t understand directions. Diana consistently instructed him to “share” and “take your turn” whenever he took toys from other kids. At some point he began responding in Nepali with a consistent word that was equivalent to “take your turn”. Then, he switched to saying “turn” in English. Finally, he used a full sentence in English to express his wish by saying, “can I take a turn”. While this incremental shift may seem small, this steady progress can be the difference between students entering kindergarten ready to participate or needing language services as they try to catch up with native English speakers.
SHIM is thankful for Diana’s dedication to enhancing the program to adapt to the changing needs of students. Recently, Diana enrolled in a class at Community College of Allegheny County focused on students with special needs to better equip herself with the tools to help all kids thrive. This year’s three-year-old ECP class demonstrated the affect that pandemic restrictions made on young children who had spent half of their lives isolated. The lack of social and emotional skills among the students presented challenges, and Diana realized that she needed more guidance to address the specific needs of the children.
Diana also worked with the local school district to better understand the needs of their kindergarten teachers. By meeting with teachers and observing an English as a Second Language class, Diana realized she could implement additional helpful practices into her curriculum. After learning that standing in line and cleaning up after themselves is a skill that entering kindergartners struggle with, Diana used ECP trips between classrooms and snack time to teach children how to wait patiently, stand one behind the next, and throw away their trash.
Diana is especially aware of the challenges faced by families in a foreign country. As a missionary in Mongolia for eighteen years, she remembers the kind neighbors who took time to help her and her children. She remembers feeling lonely in her new country and she was grateful to the people who welcomed and supported her. She feels thankful that her job at SHIM allows her to repay that kindness to kids facing similar situations here in America.
It takes a village to raise a child, so they say, and the South Hills village is full of nurturing neighbors like Diana.