The preschool years are an important time for social-emotional development. It is during preschool that many young children learn critical skills such as getting along and cooperating with others, managing strong feelings, focusing attention, and persisting at challenging tasks. The development of strong social-emotional skills in early childhood is linked with numerous benefits later in life, including healthy relationships, educational attainment, civic engagement, productive employment, and physical wellness.
Low-income students, however, are much more likely to have delays in social-emotional skill development. Many of the students we serve at MLK Montessori are struggling with significant stress and/or trauma. While more advantaged children may worry that their parents will not take them to see the newest Pixar film or that they won’t be able to master their bicycle without training wheels, the worries of low-income students, such as those we serve, are often much more critical. Will there be gunshots in my neighborhood again today? Will I eat this evening? Where will I sleep tonight?
These sorts of concerns would negatively impact a person of any age, but they can be especially detrimental to young children. Indeed, for some students at MLK, their individual stress and trauma manifest in the form of socially-emotionally regressive behaviors: clinginess, attention-seeking, defiance, and—most commonly—anger.
Although these behaviors can be challenging, MLK Montessori is uniquely equipped to support these students and their families:
· Children who have suffered from stress and trauma are more likely to present behaviors that mirror ADHD. Our Montessori classrooms include a wide variety of engaging materials, and students may explore them according to their individual interests and attention spans. This environment is supportive of students who are struggling with the development of their social-emotional skills, as it does not require them to sit still for long periods of time or learn according to a prescribed curriculum.
· Our staff members are very well-equipped to support the needs of these students. Our educators receive ongoing training on the topics of classroom management and trauma-informed education, and our Executive Director, Greta McKinney, is in the process of completing the requirements for a therapy licensure. Her strong background in mental health and family counseling has been an invaluable asset to the students and families we serve.
· Finally, we do much more than simply educate children; we also support their families. Before joining us at MLK, our Community and Family Engagement Director, Lindsay Rorick, worked with a variety of local organizations, including SCAN, the Department of Child Services, and Lutheran Social Services of Indiana. She is also certified to conduct training in trauma-informed care, sexual abuse, and managing challenging behaviors. As our Community and Family Engagement Director, Ms. Rorick connects families with local resources and provides service and medical referrals to families in need.
While we recognize that many of the students we serve have unique challenges, we firmly believe that all of our students can thrive and that—regardless of their family’s background or income—each and every child we serve deserves a supportive learning environment that will help them to succeed at MLK and in their future.