At Lesley Ellis School, anti-bias themes are woven into the curriculum across content areas and grade levels. Teachers are trained to encourage, rather than minimize, discussions of difference, even among their youngest students. The program flourishes because it’s rooted in a solid social and emotional curriculum.
In pre-Kindergarten, four-year-olds can work through conflicts at “The Peace Table,” a classroom space that includes a tie-dyed peace bear, calming sensory toys, and books about emotions the class has explored together. A teacher mediates as students take turns holding the bear, sharing their perspectives on what happened and how it made them feel. Children come to recognize it as a special place; as they become more adept at using conflict-resolution language, they visit the Peace Table to talk independently.
This understanding of themselves and others creates the base from which children can explore more challenging topics, such as homelessness. A project for five-year-olds in Transitional Kindergarten begins with learning about Johnny Appleseed — a person who did many good deeds and didn’t have a home — and concludes with a visit to a local shelter to deliver needed supplies. In between, children read books such as A Rose for Abby, about a young girl who helps a homeless woman, learning that there are many ways to be a helper. Assumptions about what makes a home are challenged as children explore different people and practices. Teachers help students connect with their experiences by asking questions that stimulate discussion and reflection.
“Our anti-bias curriculum,” says Head of School Deanne Benson, “helps children recognize bias and deepens their understanding of other people, cultures, and families, while strengthening their fundamental thinking skills.”