Embracing Our Differences became the “text” for learning for teachers and nearly 100 children from five Sarasota County Early Learning Coalition centers as they participated in a comprehensive, collaborative educational experience that integrated the arts into the curriculum with a focus on reading readiness skills and literacy.
Last fall, Arts Literacy Consultant Shelly Dorfman led professional development for participating teachers. The evening was an opportunity for teachers to explore Embracing Our Differences through previous art exhibits and to create their own art work and share strategies about how to bring this exciting experience to children in their classrooms. A follow-up meeting provided an opportunity to exhibit completed murals and share personal processes.
With the goal of creating and submitting their own art work, each classroom worked diligently to understand the meaning of Embracing Our Differences. Through a variety of literature, use of intentional vocabulary and multiple art experiences, each classroom explored possible themes for their submissions.
During the months following the initial professional development, Susie Wells, an ELC early childhood specialist, visited each site multiple times to support and provide guidance to the teachers and the children. The centers incorporated the Florida Standards, literature and literacy, math, vocabulary, social competencies and analogies into this learning process. Each mural theme was unique, meaningful and exemplified Embracing Our Differences.
During the spring, the culminating event was a field trip to the Embracing Our Differences exhibit. This trip was orchestrated with about 30 parent volunteers, center staff, ELC staff and Embracing Our Differences’ Education Director Brenna Wilhm.
Ms. Wells shared how she looked forward to viewing the art and watching how the children would experience the exhibit.
On the day of the tour, the children saw five designated murals and discussed what they saw with involvement, vigor and excitement. One parent even asked, “How did she know all about that?”
We were grateful to Embracing Our Differences for making Sarasota County School buses available, which had required equipment for young children. According to Claudia Malecki, ELC’s quality services manager, the children felt special riding on a bus and going on a field trip for the first time.
The outcomes of this experience were many. Children gained increased knowledge of vocabulary as evidenced through pre/post assessing. Social and emotional skills were demonstrated through collaboration, empathy, and perspective taking. The valuable home and school connection was an additional benefit.
“It made me smile to see the teamwork and friendship during the process,” said Sara Snow of The Renaissance Preschool.
The experience also sparked some priceless comments as the children interpreted the meaning of the art.
“There were great conversations about how we’re the same and how we’re also different,” said Liz Williams, of A New Beginnings at the Courts.