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Race in a Kindergarten Classroom

TJ von Oehsen's picture

Three weeks ago, I was placed in the upstairs classroom of the Rose Kindergarten instead of my usual class downstairs. The only difference between the classes is that the students who are taught upstairs are, I was told, “in need of a little extra help with their reading.” We spent the two hours almost solely focused on reading and writing. The main difference between the two classrooms is that the class downstairs has a counting jar that they fill every week and make estimations for the big reveal every Friday. In this event’s place was a more phonics/word based activity where a student is chosen to go and pick an object from a list of cards, puts it in the, “word box” and gives the other students three clues from which they must guess the word. It is usually a word that has to do with the current unit of study so, when I arrived during healthy eating week, the three words we used were lettuce, grapes, and burger.

After completing this activity, we went into snack and kid’s choice time. This being my first time interacting with this group of students, I used this downtime to talk to some of the kids. One of the students, Dylan, was telling me the street addresses of each of his classmates based entirely from memory when his classmate, Bryan, a student of color, asked me where I lived. I told Bryan that I was from New Jersey to which he responded, “That’s where my grandma lives! But whenever I go to visit her I never see any white people there.” I smiled and tried to ask where in New Jersey she lived but the teacher who was listening in to our conversation quickly changed the subject. Although I was not made very uncomfortable by Bryan’s comment and wanted to continue the conversation, it was clear that the other two adults in the room had the air sucked out of them for a moment. After this week, I was left wondering whether there was a place for my conversation with Bryan in a kindergarten classroom or whether, at such a young age, conversations about race should not be taken up by the student’s teachers, but instead be left for parents.