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Children of the World Learning Center celebrates a successful first year

It was a regular day at the Children of the World Learning Center (COTWLC). Fall was in the air, and the class was engaged in many activities. They explored multiple holidays and traditions, including Halloween and Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

One Spanish-speaking girl’s parent came into the class and described how the family created an altar for loved ones who had passed away, putting favorite foods and items there so that loved ones know they are not forgotten and are still provided for as they cross between worlds. At this, a primarily English-speaking girl in the class burst into tears.

She told the group that her dog had recently died and that her family had no altar where she could place food for him. After school that day, the first little girl couldn’t stop thinking about her friend. She asked her mother to buy some dog food, and together they placed it on their family’s altar and took a picture. The little girl showed her friend the picture the next day and told her not to worry. She’d seen to it that her dog was OK.

The children at COTWLC are not learning about one another’s cultures as an academic exercise. They are helping each other through life with the tools that each of them has available, and we think that is a beautiful thing. Moments like this surprised, enchanted, and humbled us all year long. Here is our story.

Children of the World Learning Center was conceived through intentional visioning and missioning of Central United Methodist Church in Charlotte.

In 2014, the church implemented a vision statement establishing our commitment.

“Joyfully embrace the diverse community where God has placed us to become the ONE community God wants us to be. . . for the sake of our community and God’s kingdom.”

In this spirit, Central United Methodist went out into the east Charlotte community, listened, and began building relationships and setting goals centered around the needs and voice of the community. In this process, we learned that a high percentage of east Charlotte hopes for better education opportunities for their children, including quality preschool education. 

We learned that  many children were not prepared upon entering kindergarten, particularly those who came from a home where English was not the primary language. We found out from parents that their children were on long waiting lists for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ pre-K and many could not afford to pay for preschool. We found ourselves asking, “How does the Gospel and our church mission call us to respond?” From this desire to serve our neighbors, COTWL, a multicultural, dual-language preschool, was born.   

Central United Methodist Church (CUMC) was able to open this preschool through donations, hundreds of in-kind volunteer hours from the church and community, and seed money from Wesley Community Development Corporation. With this help, we equipped the classroom, hired well-qualified staff, created a playground, and covered the tuition gap for almost all our participants who were at the federal poverty or near-federal poverty level. CUMC designated classroom space for the preschool, and partnership with many community non-profits provided essential services, allowing us to keep costs to a minimum.

Our students in this inaugural year came from Spanish-speaking countries, Syria, Rwanda, Congo, and the United States. Teachers used the Creative Curriculum, which addresses the whole child, as well as multicultural and globally-focused books and lessons. 

We know that children do best when they can maintain their first language as they learn a second. Thus, at COTWLC, linguistic and cultural diversity are honored, and family involvement is viewed as an integral component of learning. Families attended monthly events and regularly came into the classroom to read with the students and share, in their primary language, about their culture. Books were read in Spanish, Arabic, English, Swahili, and Italian. The children were exposed to words in these languages and learned how they were pronounced, what they meant, and the places that these languages represented. The COTWLC focuses on helping the students and their families become global citizens.

Preschool 1st Thanksgiving. Courtesy of Susan Suarez Webster

In this first year, friendships were formed and families began to lift each other up, to advocate for one another, and to form a true community across cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic lines. We are excited to continue to see this community grow and thrive as we prepare for our second year working to offer a truly high-quality preschool experience to our students — with full understanding that the most remarkable gifts they receive will come from each other.

For more on the Children of the World Learning Center, watch this video.

Susan Suarez Webster

Reverend Susan Suarez Webster has served in the role of Assistant Pastor of Community Outreach since June 2011 at Central UMC.  When the leaders and congregation began to sense God’s call to offer a Multicultural Preschool for the community, she was overjoyed.  The children, teachers and congregation have benefited from the relationships of the international families that are associated with the preschool and church.

Since August, 2018, Maria Cardarelli has been the Program Administrator of Children of the World Learning Center. Maria was born in Venezuela to an immigrant family from Italy and was blessed to be raised in a diverse household where she was able to spend time in both countries. Maria has lived in the US for 23 years where she adopted a third culture into her life and learned her third language. Maria has 20 years of experience working in early childhood education.