In October, I had the privilege of attending the Little Chairs Big Differences Diversity Conference held at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York. The theme of the conference was “Brave and Creative”, and it gathered educators from all over the country to discuss active ways we as teachers could support, embolden and nourish the curious minds we teach every day.
We kicked off the conference with 30 minutes of early morning yoga with Yo Re Mi, followed by a full-day schedule of sessions and workshops on race, gender, ability, and experiences with child development in various capacities. Here were highlights of the conference, and key takeaways from the sessions.
The Weeksville Heritage Center: a Historic Landmark
The Weeksville Heritage Center has an incredible history. The land itself was purchased in 1838 by James Weeks just after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., and became one of America’s first free African American communities, burgeoned into a thriving community of ministers, teachers and artists. In the late 60’s the spot was “rediscovered” — and with the support and assistance of the community, the original Road Houses were restored (and a Heritage Center later added on).
Weeksville is a very special place.
You could feel it in the charged energy of the conference. The group of educators was ready to be engaged and challenged and willing to stretch their own limits of experience to be open to new ideas and perspectives.
An Impactful Keynote Speaker: Therese Patricia Okoumou
What a powerful and compassionate presence. You may remember Patricia Okoumou from when she scaled the Statue of Liberty to protest ICE and the separation of children from their families. She has also scaled flag poles to liberate them of confederate flags and she speaks out as an activist with Rise and Resist NYC.
Okoumou was the Keynote Speaker at the Little Chairs Big Differences conference and she spoke of the choice we have as parents and educators to address these complicated times and painful issues with our children. She spoke of how some communities, educators and parents don’t ever have that choice as their children are faced with challenging realities day in and day out without ever having the benefit of being eased into a situation or having it explained. As educators, we know these situations can be traumatic for children, as can a lack of explanation.
So how do we create safe space for learning to happen and how do we hold space for children who need it most?
How do we educate compassionate and brave children to encounter and face these times? To face any times? How do we prepare and educate ourselves? Patricia gave us much to think about as we moved through the rest of our day.
An Engaged Community: Educators Exchanging Tools and Insight
The day’s workshops and discussions were taught by educators who were deeply engaged in the inquiry of how to improve the quality of education for their students, and ranged from Raising Race Conscious Children to creating tools for children who may need the additional support of social stories or fidgets.
We crowdsourced experiences and tools, shared insight into situations and offered tactics that we found to work in different scenarios. One of the biggest takeaways for me was seeing the use of song and story to explain challenging situations to kids. This is something we do everyday in Yo Re Mi, but to see the application used to distill unfamiliar concepts really hit home.
One of the educators, Stephen Figurasmith, shared his personal use of song. As a parent and an educator, Stephen struggled with how to explain the separation of children from their families to his own daughters. He reached out to Okoumou and wrote a song about her and her bravery, and shared with us the perfect way to engage and explain large concepts or challenging, painful subjects with children.
You can purchase and listen to Stephen’s song here. 100% of the proceeds go to Patricia Okoumou’s GoFundMe Campaign.
LCBD Takeaways: Early Childhood Practices for a Just World
Whether we like it or not, our world is a challenging place that may present a lot of questions to young children navigating their way through. As parents and educators, it falls to us to help children grapple with big situations and emotions.
It is our struggle and our joy to raise compassionate, caring, educated, and confident children who have all of the necessary tools to fight for the rights of all humans. I left the day’s conference feeling recharged with a new-found sense of peace that there are so many educators out there who care so deeply about their students. Educators who push themselves daily to meet this challenge.
Let’s all present ourselves with this question of how we can best create compassion in the world and bravely share it with all.
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Bridget Saracino is the Director of School Operations at Yo Re Mi. A 200-hour National Yoga Alliance registered Yoga Teacher, she received her teaching certification from YogaWorks and deepened her study as a teaching artist with Yo Re Mi.
In addition to teaching yoga, Bridget is a professional actress and musician with a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Co., and a Bachelor's of Arts in Theatre Arts from Cornell University. She acts professionally in theatre, voiceover, and commercials across the country. Bridget is also a theatre educator, specializing in play, voice, dialects, and movement for children and adults.