Better Together: Building a Safe Learning Environment for North Chicago Families
Welcome back to the second installment in our Better Together series. We are thrilled to share the experience of Sharon Lichtenstein, the Master Teacher who developed the curriculum for the program. United Way’s Better Together Program was developed to increase the services available for North Chicago families with children birth to 3-years-old.
When asked about the value of the Better Together Program on the families and children she interacted with, she had this to say:
“[It gives the] opportunity for caregivers and children to be in a rich, safe, and stimulating environment that encourages interactions, exploration, and learning. It is a program that only has yeses. [This program] demonstrates how much more children can learn and accomplish when they are with their “special” grown-up. Learning Games, a Family Engagement Curriculum in English and Spanish, continues the positive learning connections from school to home.”
By offering a safe space for children to interact with one another and their parent or parental figure, Better Together creates a comfortable environment for learning. There are many barriers for families in North Chicago; composed of hard working people who generally earn a lower income than its neighboring towns, the city has long been negatively stigmatized and stereotyped. Despite the challenge, we saw barriers broken and positive change occur in the children and parents who participated.
“The children have taken ownership of the classroom. They easily move throughout the centers and can decide what they want to play with. They have developed an awareness of one another and are often able to engage in parallel play. Some, who spend time together outside of class, are also beginning to play cooperatively. Though I don’t speak Spanish, many of the children have made a connection to me, and offer me toys and/or ask me to play ball with them. They see me as the teacher. I take that as a huge compliment, that they are able to initiate interactions with me. The room is no longer quiet. Children’s excited voices and supportive parents’ interactions have become the norm in the classroom,” said Sharon.
She continued, “families feel supported. All handouts and explanations of activities are in Spanish and English. Understanding the learning that is happening in the classroom becomes easy to understand and support. The families put together an amazing fiesta by themselves to celebrate the ending of the first session. Ismael nor myself initiated this. They demonstrated a great spirit of ownership of the classroom and the learning that took place.”
The Better Together was designed to create positive change and support the families within our own community of Lake County. Bearing witness to the students and families who are exchanging ideas and learning as a part of the program illustrates the tremendous impact it has.
A special thank you to Sharon Lichtenstein for all the incredible work she has done for the children and their families in the first year of Better Together. Check in with us next week to hear our very own Ismael Calderon’s experience being a part of United Way Lake County’s Better Together Program! Missed the last Better Together post? Click here to read.