For decades, the YMCA of Metro Chicago has been at the forefront of best practices in early childhood education. In 2016, a new anti-bias curriculum was introduced to the Y’s 10 early learning sites in Chicago.
The curriculum, which currently touches 400 children and their families, empowers Y educators to cultivate a classroom culture and climate based on anti-bias principles and teach related instructional content. Staff meet twice monthly in peer groups to explore anti-bias concepts related to cultural and racial identity, class, family structure and ability. Teachers then apply the concepts in their classrooms and bring their experiences back to the group for discussion and feedback.
The goal is to provide teachers with the tools to move beyond surface-level awareness in their teaching, such as appreciating foods and other cultural artifacts, and toward true anti-bias “literacy”— cultural competency and social justice mindsets that can be applied to any cultural context.
An anti-bias literacy program for pre-K children is completely new. “It doesn’t exist elsewhere,” says Allen Rosales, Senior Early Childhood Advisor at the Y. The program is set to expand to the suburban Ys for the 2017-2018 school year, and, ultimately, to be a model for other organizations to learn from and replicate.
Is it too much for these young children? On the contrary. Juan Jacinto, a master early education teacher at Rauner Family Y, has seen growth in his students—and himself. “It was challenging at first,” he says, “but the kids seemed to grasp most of the concepts, and we hear them talk to each other and be advocates for each other. And they also teach us a lot about our beliefs and our biases that we carry into the classroom.”
The anti-bias curriculum is possible in part thanks to a $1.45 million grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which also helps fund the early childhood educator professional learning communities.