Letter from Teacher Marty (November 2017)

Dear MPS Family,

Guess what? You just survived one of the most busy and chaotic weeks at the preschool! Picture Day, Pumpkin Patch Field Trips, Class Meetings in the evening with me and the Harvest Party. It seems no matter how hard I try to space things out we always hit a snag somewhere and wind up with at least one perfect storm. While we will stay active through the fall, I am hoping we can avoid another week like that for a while.

On top of all of the activities, we have been getting lots of reports of illnesses striking our community. Most of it is the usual suspects of colds, upper respiratory infections, and the occasional stomach bug. At the same time we have a few community members who have been experiencing some added stress from children or family members with more serious health concerns.

Our co-op community really kicks into gear when these special needs occur. I have been seeing meal trains set up, offers of child care, swapping of teaching shifts and lots of encouragement and moral support. Please never hesitate to let us know if you are hitting a rough patch in your family, health wise or stress related. I know sometimes it can be hard to ask for or accept help. But I learned through my own illness years ago that accepting the concept of ‘paying it forward’ is not only healing but empowering as well.

You should know that you are all so loved within our community and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to help out during a rough patch and the same can be said for your fellow co-op members. Together we are so strong, caring and giving. You know that old saying about being more than the sum of our parts? It is true!

While touching on the topic of illnesses, this is a good opportunity to remind everyone to remain vigilant on hygiene and sanitation at the school and at home. If your child is showing signs of illness, please err on the side of caution. If they are coughing, sneezing and if their hands are often in their mouths, they will be sharing their viruses and illnesses. They don’t mean to. And we work really hard to encourage hand washing and using our “sneeze and cough pockets” to cover up and catch those aerosolized expulsions of virus, but they are after all little kids and they forget and those sneezes/coughs just sneak up on them and happen so fast! If you think they are contagious, keep them home. If you are not sure what to do you can always call me and we can chat.

If your child has had a fever, been vomiting or had diarrhea they must be kept home until they have passed a full 24 hour period with no symptoms – without the aid of any medications (no anti-inflammatories or fever reducers, diarrhea meds, etc).

As always, if you see a child at school mouthing a toy, it needs to go right into the kitchen to be washed and sanitized before returning to the classroom. We will keep doing our best to keep everyone healthy.

November Activities

Lots to pay attention to this month. We will be having two breaks in our schedule in November – make sure you have them on your calendar. There is NO SCHOOL on Friday, November 10th (Veteran’s Day). And Thursday and Friday, November 23rd and 24th are the Thanksgiving Day Holidays, so again, NO SCHOOL.

Also worth noting, I will be taking Wednesday afternoon, November 15th and the full day of Thursday November 16th off and will be out of the classroom preparing for our General Meeting Thursday night (11/16). If your child is highly sensitive to my presence (or lack thereof) in the classroom, we should do some preplanning so that they will be prepared and comfortable. Let me know if you want to talk.

Focus on Giving

During the months of November and December we will be focusing a lot on caring for members of our communities who need a little extra help. We read the children the Stone Soup folk tales and a beautiful book titled “The Quilt Makers Gift”. These stories are a natural segue to learning about hunger and homelessness in our city and what we can do as individuals to be of assistance to our neighbors.

The conversations we have with the children around these issues can be quite amazing. Their hearts are so innocent and they quickly get excited about how to reach out and help. We will kick off our annual food drive in early November, running through the last week of school before Winter Break. We will place a large barrel in the classroom and when it appears we ask that you help us to fill it with non-perishable foods as many times as possible. We will deliver the food each time it fills to Neighborhood House (NH). NH is a social service agency in Multnomah Village. Among other things it operates one of the main food pantries for families struggling with hunger and food instability in SW Portland.

In addition, a large glass jar will appear in the classroom the second week in November as well. We are going to be collecting cash in the jar which will be used by the Pre-K students to go out and purchase new warm winter coats/hats/gloves which will also be donated to assist families in need. Any amount you can spare for the coat drive will be put to good use. We have a goal of $400. I am pretty sure we can make that work. This is of course an optional contribution. No pressure at all.

As we talk about the fact that there are people in our neighborhoods and communities who do not have enough food to eat or safe places to live, please be prepared to continue these conversations with your children at home. They will have questions to ask and information to share. You can really help them come to a rudimentary understanding of the subject if you remember to speak to them in simple terms, recognizing their developmental levels.

We have learned over the years that kids who grow up in households where money is not a huge problem have some really interesting ideas about what money is, where it comes from, how you get it and what you need to do when you need food. And if you think about it, it is pretty confusing. When I was a kid, I saw cash on a regular basis. My dad brought his paycheck home every month and sometimes we went with him to the bank to make the deposit. We saw him working every two weeks to balance the family checkbook and work out our budget for the month. We went to work with him so we saw what he did to earn money. And because money was a scarce thing in our household for many years we learned about making a dollar stretch a loooooonnnnnngggg way.

Now, your kids probably rarely see cash or a checkbook. When you buy something at a store they probably see you hand the clerk a piece of plastic, or maybe they see you stick it into a machine and they never see you hand the clerk anything at all, making the transaction even more confusing.

Children often do not understand that that piece of plastic is a link to an actual bank account. That you can only use the plastic card if there is money being put into the bank. Auto deposits are not visible to kids. The whole thing often seems magical to them so their first advice when we talk about people who are hungry and don’t have enough food is to “just go to the store and use your money card.” It is hard to understand that to have money to buy things generally means that someone in the family does some kind of work and that they are paid money to do this work. To understand that all work does not pay the same is really hard and super confusing. When we tell kids that many people who are struggling to be able to buy food actually have jobs and sometimes they even work 2 or more different jobs, you can tell they are struggling to understand. The underlying social justice and economic systems are hard for adults to grasp and we certainly don’t have national agreement on policies to solve these issues. But I think we can agree that no child should go without nutritious food to eat every day.

Collecting food and donating it is not a large or long term solution to an enormous problem, but it IS something concrete and tangible that children can understand and make meaning of. As they grow and develop, you can continue these conversations with your children and help them grow in the level of sophistication in their understanding of the issues and in the things they can do to help their community be a stronger and more just place to live.

Lastly, we also always participate in the Winter Wishes drive by Neighborhood House as well. This is an opportunity to help families have a happy and comfortable holiday by meeting some of the holiday needs and wishes of families in the NH programs. Your class reps will be sharing information on this program when the time comes.

One important thing to note. When you talk to your children about hunger and homelessness please use ‘People First’ language. Please do not refer to people who are needing help or who are struggling financially as “THE POOR”. This phrase is actually pretty harmful. It really creates social distance and reinforces disparities in social class. By labeling those who need help as the poor, we give legs to the idea that these people are other. That they are different from us and because they are different we don’t have anything in common with them. It encourages us to pity and feel sorry for them. And in many cases it makes it easy to begin to blame people for their individual plights.

I will be talking to your kids in a way that attempts to help them see everyone as an individual with common hopes and dreams. All parents want to give their kids safety and security. All kids want to be loved, want to have enough to eat, a warm bed to sleep in and a home to call their own. All kids deserve to have a good school and to be able to learn and play and be a child. The people in our community who need help, need that help for many different reasons and in all reality, they are not so different from any one of us as we all need help sometimes. And while we do not want to frighten your children (so I never say this to them), in your hearts you understand that any one of us could find ourselves in a tough spot that spirals out of control landing us in a position of needing big help. Maybe you have been in these shoes yourself before. It is a humbling experience.

So, when it comes up at home, help draw your children’s attention to the humanity we all share. Talk about people who need our help and what your family might be able to do. Teach compassion and understanding, commitment to making our world better and how to create an action plan to support everyone in our communities.

Let me know if you want to talk more on this subject. I will be making a short presentation on some of the issues related to social class at our next General Meeting. I will include a question and answer period and we can chat more as a community at that time.

Stone Soup Party

On a related note, we will be coming together before Thanksgiving to celebrate our classroom communities and to honor the work we are doing by holding Stone Soup Potlucks in each class. I will be making Stone Soup with your children using vegetables you send in and you will come back to class early and bring a side dish to share then enjoy a meal with your fellow parents and your children. And YES! It really is Stone Soup! I have a special stone we have been cooking for 23 years. It came all the way from the Big Susitna River in Alaska and it makes the soup D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! Ok, what really makes it delicious are the other things we put in! But the stone goes with the story and the kids love it. And when we serve the soup up, it is always fun to see who finds the stone in their bowl! (You do have to give it back!)

I provide the stone, vegetable broth, onions and garlic, herbs and spices. You will send your child to school on their soup day with a vegetable to add. And because it is potluck they can bring anything. Corn, carrots, green beens, celery, bell peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, peas, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips – you name it. Send it in washed. The kids and I will peel and chop and add it to the soup. We will keep the soup gluten free and vegan so keep that in mind. No noodles unless they are gluten free and nut safe.

These parties are a long time tradition in our school and are always lots of fun. The schedule for each class is below:

4’s Class: Monday, November 20th. Parents/guests return to class at 10:45am.

3’s Class: Tuesday, November 21st. Parents/guests return to class at 10:45am.

Pre-K Class: Tuesday, November 21st. Parents/guests return to class at 2:45pm.

Field Day!

Hey! Each class will be having a Field Day at Tualatin Hills Nature Park (15655 SW Milikan Way, Beaverton) at the end of the month. We will be hiking in the woods, looking at how they have changed now that it will be late fall and almost winter. Be sure to send your child well prepared for the weather as we will go rain or shine (you should dress for success too if you plan on coming with us!). Each child will need to BRING THEIR OWN SNACK AND A WATER BOTTLE IN A BACKPACK THAT THEY CAN CARRY THEMSELVES. All snacks still need to be nut free and safe. I highly encourage rain pants if you have them since we usually sit on the ground to eat and rest. Alternatively, a garbage bag in the backpack can also provide a dry place to sit. The schedule for each class is:

3’s Class: Thursday, November 30th. Meet at the entrance to the Nature Center at 9:15am. Dismissal at 11:15am

Pre-K Class: Thursday, November 30th. Meet at the entrance to the Nature Center at 1:15pm. Dismissal at 3:15pm.

4’s Class: Friday, December 1st. Meet at the entrance to the Nature Center at 9:15am. Dismissal at 11:15am

Thoughts I Have Been Mulling Over OR The Painful Position of Privilege

We recently held our annual Anti-Bias Class. I have taken that class so many times and every time, I get some new insight. I have been thinking a lot about the experience this year and doing some reflecting that I want to share with you, for what it is worth.

When the class opens, each participant is invited to introduce themselves and share a little about what they want to get out of the class or why they are taking it. One of the frequent things said by folks, especially if they are the parent of a light skinned son is that they realize they are raising another ‘White Male’ and that they want to somehow change their child’s story or path in the world. We have a lot of sympathy for each other- there are lots of heads nodding and murmurs of support.

This year after the class was over, I really thought long and hard about what is under our statements when we say we ‘don’t want to just raise another white male’. This is what I have come up with.

To me the underlying message is really that we want ourselves and our kids to develop awareness and understanding of what it means to have privilege and to learn ways to level the playing field so that we can eliminate the one up/one down nature of our society so that all have access to equality and justice.

In saying that, we need to become aware of what privilege is and to recognize that we all have privilege of one type or another. Privilege is an unearned attribute that because of the nature of our society/culture infers some benefit upon the individual. Light skinned people have privilege over people of color. People whose bodies are fully able have privilege over those who have physical limitations. Heterosexual and cisgendered people have privilege over LGBTQ people. People born into middle and upper socio-economic status have privilege over people born into lower socio-economic status families.

Most of the time we are unaware of our privilege on a daily basis. We can lead blissful lives of ignorance until someone calls us out on it and points out the unfairness of the situation. Given the level of social unrest and awareness in our country at this time, there is heightened awareness of privilege and there are lots of ‘call outs’ happening.

If we get called out or singled out for our privilege, often our first reaction is denial. Sometimes we react in anger. It is hard to see ourselves as privileged because often we remember some struggles that we had in our life – some situation that felt unfair or where we did not have access to the same resources or benefits someone else did. And because our identities are multi-faceted, we can be both privileged in some areas, and unprivileged in others. But being in the one down/unprivileged area for part of our identity does not negate the privilege we may have in another area (for example, a light skinned gay man feels the discrimination and homophobia that is present for all gay people, but is in the one up/privileged position when it comes to race.) As a light skinned woman – I have the privilege afforded to light skinned people in our country. I can move through my community easily, seeing people who look like me pretty much everywhere I go. I am not followed in stores because someone thinks I look suspicious because of my skin color. I have never had someone cross the street to get away from me because my skin color makes them uncomfortable. I have raised a white son. I did not have to have the same conversations with him that parents raising a black child do about the police and how to behave if stopped, how to be non-threatening, indeed how to come home alive at the end of the night. My skin color has given me a free pass in these areas.

At the same time, I am a woman. I could answer “Me Too” to the thread on Facebook about being sexually harassed or assaulted. I have experienced discrimination in the workplace based on my gender (no, not at Multnomah Playschool!). I have walked down streets feeling unsafe and threatened. I have been catcalled. I have made less money than male counterparts who had less education and experience.

I have experienced both privilege and being unprivileged and it is likely each of you have too. Once I got my eyes opened to these realities, and I got over the shock of realizing that I benefit unfairly from attributes I was born with and did not earn through any action of my own, I had to figure out what to do about it. At first I felt grief and sadness and then wrenching guilt and shame.

But if one thing is true, it is that feeling ashamed and guilty does nothing to change or make the world better. I have had to work to learn what to do with my privilege. I have had to learn what it means to work for change. I have had to learn that creating equality and equity for everyone does not take away from my experience of the world. In reality it opens up the system so that everyone has equal access to safety, equality, respect and justice.

So once you see your privilege, you can set out to learn about how to use it to bring attention to injustice in the world. You can learn how to be an ALLY to those who are experiencing injustice, bigotry, racism, inequality. You can learn how to become an active agent for change. And in you seeking out that learning, you can bring your child with you. We can help our children learn how to call it out when the world is being unfair. We can help them learn to center the voices of those who do not have access, how to learn from the experiences of others and make adjustments to the way we walk in the world so that we are not benefitting because of an unearned status when others are being shut out.

We are in a time of social unrest. It is both exciting and scary. It is uncomfortable, even painful to own up to our privilege. But this time in our world is a time of opportunity. I believe great change and advancement towards greater freedom and equality is on the horizon for us as a nation. The pathway will not always be clear and there will be many false starts and pitfalls along the way. The fact that so many of us are struggling to understand our identities and how our culture does not afford all equal access is a good thing.

So the next time we are tempted to say what we don’t want to raise our kids in a reductionist way, try turning it around and making a positive statement about what we DO want for our kids. Awareness, commitment to equality, strength to take action when the world is unfair. Everyone is invited and needed to change the world – especially our white sons. As parents we are the role models that our children need. We are the beacons that will help them find their way. The burden of our privilege is to face up to it, to shoulder the pain that comes with awareness and then dig in and work to make the world more fair for all.

And with that I will offer one final thought. November is to be a time for being aware of our blessings. I am grateful for all of you. I am grateful for all you do for our school. I am grateful for the love you pour into the hearts of your children. I am grateful for your open hearts and your commitment to learning and growing alongside your kids. I have been blessed with this opportunity to be a part of your and your children’s lives for this moment in time. When I reflect this month on all the grace that life has bestowed upon me, I will see you and your children’s faces. Thank you today and always.

With gratitude and humility,

Teacher Marty