VECF Spotlight: An anti-racist initiative forging new connections in Burlington

The Vermont Early Childhood Fund is a Building Bright Futures (BBF) initiative to support creative solutions that will improve the well-being of children (prenatal–age 8), their families, and the Vermont communities in which they live. Eligible projects address one or more of the regional priorities identified annually by the BBF Regional Early Childhood Council and support the vision stated in Vermont’s Early Childhood Action Plan (VECAP). 

The 2023 Application is due on October 7, 2022. 

One of our 2022 Vermont Early Childhood Fund (VECF) grantees is the Racial Justice within Early Education Consortium, which is using the funding to provide educational materials and anti-racism training to a consortium of educators in the Burlington area. The project is aligned with one of the Chittenden Regional Council’s 2021 priorities, early childhood workforce development.

“The funding has supported us in ordering books for our classrooms that align with the demographics of our families and the interests of our kids,” said Wiley Reading, assistant director of the Burlington preschool at ONE Arts Community Schools. “I recently read Gabrielle Union’s Welcome to the Party to our student Mahir. As we read, Mahir kept exclaiming things like ‘He looks like me!’ and ‘She looks like my auntie!” Whenever he saw images of a little girl who reminded him of his little sister Zainab, he would say, ‘That’s my baby!’ It was wonderful to see how excited he was to see his family represented in the book.”

The Full Story School is a nonprofit that teaches early childhood educators how to talk effectively about race and racism. Thanks to support from VECF, The Full Story School is providing anti-racism training to teachers from ONE Arts Community Schools, The Family Room, Burlington Forest Preschool, Old School of South Burlington, and Full Circle Preschool. 

BBF is excited to fund projects like this that not only address the topic of racial equity and inclusion, but do so through a relationship-building, collaborative model. All of these groups came together to promote and develop anti-racist educational practices. One program can be very successful on its own, but when many programs work together around combating racism, real change can happen. VECF is such an important BBF initiative, as it helps convening organizations and agencies to better serve children and families via a collective impact framework while strengthening the Vermont early childhood system to be more comprehensive and equitable.

“We understand, as Ibram X. Kendi writes, ‘The only way to undo racism is to constantly identify and describe it—and then dismantle it,’” said Sarah McLellan, former site director at ONE Arts Community School Burlington, who took the lead on the VECF application and is currently on sabbatical. “This collaboration supports a large group of teachers to better hone their practice of identifying and describing racism in their classrooms and supports young people in providing them the tools they need to confront it and dismantle it.”

Although the schools that worked with TFSS this year are all in the Burlington area, they were not previously in collaboration with each other. The Family Room is a parent-child center, Full Circle Preschool is part of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, Burlington Forest Preschool and Old School are nature-based schools, and ONE Arts focuses on art and building robust neighborhood partnerships. The connections that have been forged among the schools this year has been a major benefit of the project, laying the foundation for long-term communication, cooperation, and network building among organizations that are all focused on the same goals.

“We have a very strong connection now with The Family Room,” Reading said. “We have been enrolling students directly through them, and we have signed up for a phone translation service so we can have conversations about preschool enrollment with folks who don’t speak much English. These are families who may have just arrived here and who need childcare just as much as anyone, but they may have encountered bureaucratic hurdles to completing their paperwork.”

The project has borne fruit for ONE Arts in other ways as well. “We may have students enroll who have moved here within the past few months from Somalia, or Estonia, or Nigeria,” Reading said. “When we decorate our classrooms and choose materials, we are trying to give as much weight to their experiences as we place on the experience of American-born children. We collect recipes from families and incorporate them into our meal schedule. People from other countries bring cultural practices and expectations, and those are to be incorporated daily, not just allowed to come out on a few days a year. This approach benefits all our students.”

If your organization has an idea for a project like this one that improves the well-being of Vermont children and their families while supporting Regional Council priorities, we encourage you to apply by the October 7 deadline.

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