TYO's Spring 2015 Session: Looking Back, Stepping Forward
Last week, TYO wrapped up the Spring 2015 session of our Core early childhood education program. Reflecting on the past 4 months – particularly looking back on the February day children in our Core 4-5 year old program first stepped foot into the center – we have seen real and incredible growth in many of our children. Our Core team can certainly attest to the challenges that those first few days of the program present. For some children, it is their first time spending time away from their parents and familiar home environment, and so they struggle to adjust to a very different environment filled with unfamiliar adults and new classmates. For those children returning to TYO, it is still a challenging adjustment moving on from previous teachers and peers to whom they had grown close to meet their new teacher and classmates. For all of our children who come from small and densely-populated homes and neighborhoods, often in close proximity to relatives and other familiar faces, TYO’s large center and spacious classrooms, populated by the friendly faces of staff, volunteers, and interns from around Palestine and the world, can be both exciting and overwhelming. From the first day, TYO’s Core team works to create an environment of community and safety for children to learn, explore, and grow into their own personalities. Last week, as we wrapped up both our morning 4-5 year old program and after-school 6-8 year old program, TYO’s Core teachers reflected on their proudest and most challenging moments of the Spring session. Core teacher Haitham shared his experience working with sisters Sajida and Jawaher.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in my class was Sajida. From day one, Sajida struggled significantly interacting with male figures in our program, even myself as her teacher. She was shy to the point that it regularly inhibited her from participating in our class activities. Additionally, Sajida often wanted to ‘check in’ on her sister Malak in Shireen’s class, just to ensure that she was safe and happy. Often, as soon as Sajida saw her sister, she would happily and confidently return to class. It was a clear sign that Sajida needed to build trust in her environment at TYO.
The progress I saw certainly was not overnight, but seeing Sajida on her first day and now is like night and day. With the help of Suhad [TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager] we worked closely with Sajida to develop her sense of safety in the center, both in the space and around adults and her peers at TYO. We encouraged her to verbally express her needs and to engage with us through words when she was uncomfortable. Whenever she needed to ‘check in’ on Malak, we empowered her to leave class and check on her sister; slowly and on her own, Sajida began to ask less and trust that her sister was okay. We also worked closely with Sajida’s family to encourage more open communication at home, and with that the change in Sajida’s confidence was clear.
One day, Sajida wandered away from our group between class rotations. Under the careful watch of Suhad, she explored all of our classrooms on the first floor – peering into empty classes, taking time to play on her own in the Imagination room, even wandering up to the second floor to peek into an ongoing class in the Storytelling corner. That day, it was clear to me that something had changed in Sajida. She was more comfortable, more independent, and importantly felt one hundred percent safe at TYO.
Half way through the session, I had the opportunity to teach Sajida’s older sister Jawaher in our after-school program. Jawaher had an unbelievable amount of energy, and I had to work deliberately with her to channel her energy in a positive way. Quickly, she became my most enthusiastic and competitive student when it came to sports and competitive games. Her energy was contagious – her enthusiasm pushed other girls in our class to be just as competitive, and she challenged the boys in her class to see their female peers as real competitors in sports. What was most interesting to me was that. as I worked with Jawaher's energy, the impact on Sajida was clear. Sajida’s confidence and engagement in class grew tremendously in those final weeks of the session.
It is easy to see those individual moments with Jawaher and Sajida as small victories, but together they create a picture of the important progress children in our Core Program have made, and the wider impact their participation had on their siblings and families. It is a great testament to TYO's belief that teaching and empowering children builds not only stronger individuals, but also stronger families and communities.
– Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager