Open Letter from Joanne Labish Taylor, instructor forFoundations of Early Childhood Education, in the Early ChildhoodEducation Program, May 27, 2004
The service learning project on Homeland Security was introducedin the course, Foundations of Early Childhood Education within theAA program in Early Childhood Education. Students in this programare generally not currently working in the field. but are planningto transfer into 4 year programs and get teacher certification inPreschool to Grade 3 Our AA program provides only an introductionto early childhood, a total of 6 credit hours, although our AASprogram provides a comprehensive preparation for students to workdirectly in community programs after and even during completion ofthe AAS degree.
One of my goals for the students conducting the service learningproject was to help students become more familiar with the earlychildhood education community-based programs, rather than publicschool-based programs. Although some of the community basedprograms contract with public schools, the regulatory authority forthe programs differ, with public school programs being morestringently regulated. Public schools have already addresseddisaster plans and homeland security issues, whereas, the communitybased programs, have just recently added regulation to requirewritten disaster plans for child care programs.
The theme of Homeland Security was resisted by students. Theconcept itself seemed to instill fear and opposition within collegestudents. Even when viewed conceptually and called DisasterPlanning, some students were slow to warm up to the project. Theproject was geared to provide resources to the community programsso that the community could and would develop disaster plansspecific to the community center, based on the individualresources, needs, and location of the community based center.
The students reached out to approximately twenty child care centersin the community. Anecdotal reports from the centers, showed thatonly one center had a written disaster plan in place. The centersseemed mostly complacent, that the odds were against anythinghappening "again". For the centers that did react to911, the quick fix steps they had put in place ended at the end ofthat school year, because "nothing happened".
Young children do not need to understand the Homeland Securitythreat itself, terrorism is only one form of disaster, but theyneed to understand and cope with categorical issues. We geared ourwork toward the social and emotional well-being of children duringdisasters. The teacher and director are the ones that provide thecomfort and sense of well-being for the child. Analogies were madeto fire drills and the threat of "stranger danger",which are currently included in most early childhood curricula. Thestudents brainstormed the types of situations that might bestressful to young children during or following a disaster, suchas, having to vacate the building, being restricted to the interiorof the building, separation from a parent for an extended period oftime, or even a missing parent.
Students worked in small groups and designed lesson plans oractivities based on the input from the community centers. Since thecourse is not specifically geared to designing lesson plans, someof the plans may need revisions. However, the role of the teacherto support children's social and emotional needs and helpchildren cope through preparation and planning wasreinforced.
I hope that this project can continue in the AAS program, throughthe Early Childhood Curriculum course where the activities andlesson plans can be refined, expanded and further disseminated inthe community.