Today our son Rio graduated from his preschool, South of Market Child Care (SOMACC) in San Francisco. It was an emotional morning for our family: Rio joined SOMACC a week before the pandemic began, only to be sent home when all childcare facilities shut down. He returned in August 2020, which was a true blessing for all of us. I’ve written before about how the wonderful education he received there enabled me to go back to work and revolutionize my pedagogy during an exceedingly difficult time. But I haven’t written about my deep appreciation of SOMACC’s pedagogy.
SOMACC’s curriculum is inspired by child-led educational philosophies my family deeply supports: RIE, an early-age approach that supports autonomy and curiosity, and Reggio Emilia, a philosophy that emphasizes diversity in interests and “languages” of learning and interactions with teachers and peers. These heart-centered approaches characterize every aspect of SOMACC’s mission. The children learn through art, play, and interaction. We are going through all the wonderful materials from Rio’s years there, and I am blown away by the careful attention that his teachers (pictured above with him) have paid to his development. They documented his activities, skill development, and the wise things he said, in writing; we have volumes upon volumes of anecdotes and sparkling moments of his school life. The school sent us weekly “meaningful moments”, but they were a drop in the bucket compared with the constant affection, attention, and nurturing that they showered on Rio and his friends.
Another aspect of SOMACC’s deep values is the extent to which they *do* social justice every hour of every day, rather than performatively talk about it. San Francisco is a city with deep inequalities: some families have Teslas and private jets and others suffer from food insecurity and housing instability. At least at SOMACC, these gaps are bridged–the school makes an enormous effort to give everyone the best possible start in life. The children receive breakfast, a snack, and lunch in school. In a small room out of sight, the school keeps basic groceries for families in need, who can help themselves without asking or being seen. Whenever the school fostered movie night, every child went home not only with a viable option to watch the movie for free, but also with snacks and activities related to the movie. The attention to every detail, the nurturing of every child, the assistance to every parent, were visible at every turn.
At today’s ceremony, Rio was overcome with emotion and overwhelm and walked on stage teary-eyed. It was heartwarming to see his teachers rally around him and offer him love and warmth. Much as we look forward to Rio’s continued educational journey, we are sad that this wonderful chapter has ended, and wish all the very best to all of Rio’s friends and their families as they move on to big kids’ school. Rio offered his teachers cards and flowers, which we prepared for them this morning. The pandemic has left so many of us with compassion and empathy deficits to the point that, even as educators make huge efforts for their students, they do not receive the immense gratitude that they deserve. I hope this post goes a little way toward expressing the vast gratitude and love we have for all teachers, especially our son’s.
The more I despair of the intractable problems of our society, the more I believe that the best answer to many of them lies in early age education, and with places like SOMACC in existence, one can’t help but feel hopeful.