Let's Learn More about Early Learning
This month Erie Arts & Culture spotlights different New American artists to honor World Refugee Day, an international celebration that acknowledges the strength and contributions refugees make in their new homes.
In April and May Early childhood center directors and staff gathered to explore how culture can be like the atmosphere, everywhere yet sometimes invisible. The class, Hidden in Plain Site: Culture is Everywhere, used testimonials from New American women to consider culture in its many forms, and discuss issues around diversity, privilege, and equity. Erie Arts & Culture folklorist Kelly Armor, was one of the trainers. “Sometimes white folks point to immigrants and say, ‘oh they have a culture but I don’t.’ When you are in a vacuum, it is hard to understand your own culture. This training was about using New American’s experiences to help teachers be aware of their own cultural identities.”
Elana Como, the director of the Early Learning Resource Center in our region, said, “Exposing ourselves to the diversity that lives right next door is so important for those working in early childhood. Babies' brains are forming multiple connections. The earlier we start to give them different experiences, the kinder the children will be as adults. It is critical for children to learn how to exist in harmony with others.”
Three women who came to Erie as refugees shared their wisdom: Amrita Magar, who is Bhutanese Nepali, Clarisse Amani from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nibal Abd El Karim from Palestine. They shared songs, spoke about adapting to life in Erie, and how they preserve their native culture. They also illuminated aspects of American culture some participants might have taken for granted.
The course culminated in a visit from Clarisse and Nibal to each participating center where they shared traditional children’s songs in Arabic, Swahili, and English. Nibal said, “I think we did great. The children loved it, they got to clap and dance. But one visit isn’t enough. Three visits is better because then the teacher can learn the songs.” One of the participants, Kenya Johnson, the owner and director of the Learning Ladder, stated, “I enjoyed it. Hearing different languages is really good for the children. Please come back!” Clarisse Amani spoke about how she and Nibal worked seamlessly together. “The class was amazing. It is good when Americans can learn from people in other countries. I love to share what we know. It made me feel welcome.”