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Perspective | What does educational justice look like in early care and education?

It’s about soil, seeds, bridges, and real talk.

That’s how Kate Goodwin talks about her work as the owner of Kate’s Korner Learning Center in Durham. Her own journey as a parent propelled her to focus on racial equity in child care, serving as a catalyst for educational justice, not only in her center, but also in her community.

Her inspiration came from Walter Gilliam, Yale professor who leads the research around implicit bias in early childhood education, focusing on the expulsion rate. And it comes every day from the children she teaches and cares for as she supports, protects, and cultivates their social, emotional, physical, and academic development and gifts.

With 32 years of experience in child care and education, Kate has a clear and unwavering commitment to educational justice, using the whole-child concept and building access to equitable learning experiences powered by the strength of community.

At this summer’s annual meeting of the NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Mary Mathew, our collaboration and policy leader at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, had a conversation with Kate about her learning center’s vision and work with young children and families. Kate spoke about access to early childhood education during COVID-19; the absolute need for educators to build trust with parents; how racial equity can be realized through educational justice; and what she looks for in community partners.

Access is the pain point for parents.

Kate’s team moved into action quickly during the pandemic. Her center filled the gap for children of color who did not have access to learning pods when distance learning was required. She knew that access was the pain point for parents, and during COVID it was heightened.

Partnering with Smashing Boxes, a tech company in Durham, she was able to create new locations to serve as many young children as possible. Books came from Book Harvest. Other community organizations stepped forward with needed resources. This access was the bridge to fill the gap, preparing more children for learning away from traditional school environments.

Building trust with parents

Kate and her team recognize that parents know their child better than anyone. She knows parents need to be partners in their child’s healthy development and education. The team builds trust with parents through regular communication, by learning and understanding families and communities, and through cultural competency including representation. This approach offers a sense of belonging, both for parents and children, and begins to break educators’ biases. It also supports parents in advocating for their children, encouraging them to step in and say no when something is not okay.

Partnering for success

Kate talked about how important consistent and ongoing communication is with partner organizations. Through honest conversation, which she described as “real talk,” partners can be vulnerable and discuss past work and assess its effectiveness. It’s not a blame game; it is solution-driven from a posture of learning.

When the soil is prepared, seeds can grow. When children are prepared, they can thrive.

Bridges give us access to new places. Access to early care and education is the bridge to readying children for kindergarten.

Real talk is how we get there.

Here’s a clip from our conversation with Kate. She discusses the importance of representation in literacy — when children see themselves in their teachers, their community, and their books, they feel welcome and connected, sparking a love for learning.

Lisa Finaldi

Lisa Finaldi has over 25 years of experience as a non-profit leader at the state, national and international levels. She leads the First 2000 Days initiative and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Through the First 2,000 Days initiative, local organizations build their public engagement capacity, position early child development as an issue that impacts all North Carolinians and engage unexpected voices as early childhood champions.