SCHOOLS | June 3, 2021
By Rhodora Dela Cruz, Pre-K Teacher at Yates Elementary School
One way I know that pre-k is important is when I see the eyes of my former students gazing longingly through my classroom window. I’ll have eighth-graders sent to my classroom to deliver a message or help out, and their faces light up when they walk through the door.
It’s a special feeling to know that the space you created for your students has left an impression on them that lasts until they graduate.
I’ve always been fascinated by how much potential young students have and how much growth and development occurs within such a short amount of time. I’ll never forget one student who entered my classroom really struggling, but when we got to our unit on flowers and insects—two of his key interests—everything changed.
As a classroom, we observed the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies and let them free. When a butterfly landed on this student’s hand for the first time, his entire spirit lit up. It was the moment of his life.
To help my students develop a strong academic foundation and learn more about the world around them, I utilize The Creative Curriculum’s various studies and investigations. One of my favorites is the study on buildings.
First, we might observe our school and the various buildings in our community. We’ll sketch or paint our school and take a trip on The 606 to see these buildings from a different point of view. Then, we’ll take advantage of living in Chicago even more by taking a trip to look at the buildings at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Chicago skyline.
There are many ways throughout the year that we uplift students and show them the value of learning, and my focus is on always making these moments feel authentic. I do this by infusing our classroom routines and structures with elements of math, literacy, and science.
It also means having the willingness and patience to give students multiple opportunities to express their understanding and knowledge. I’ve found that this is especially important for my English learners. Since I come from that same background as my students, I make sure to celebrate the little victories and praise them for all the effort they are putting into my class.
This year, of course, has been anything but normal, but an overwhelmingly positive part has been the relationships that I’ve built with parents. I’ve learned even more clearly that parental participation and involvement is the perfect complement to all the love and care that teachers pour into their classroom.
If you’re on the fence about enrolling your student in pre-k next year, my advice is to go for it. You should know that we are going to make sure that your child is safe, healthy, happy, and has a really great experience in school. Pre-k can be the year that helps your child come to love learning, and pre-k teachers like myself are always open to answer questions and help our families through the process of entering a new adventure.
I’m so honored and privileged to be a part of early childhood education in Chicago. Pre-k is like this magical little world that we get to create to support our students’ academic and social-emotional needs. That energy is felt by everyone; former students, other teachers, and administrators call my classroom the place where they can come to relax or have fun and laugh.
And when the classroom environment is tailored to maximize social-emotional growth, students move on knowing that they are valued and their school supports who they are becoming.
We are not trying to make students fit a certain mold in my pre-k classroom; we are helping them learn to love who they are.
Ms. Dela Cruz says service trips in college drew her away from a career in accounting and into the classroom. She’s been in education for about 15 years, the majority of them at Yates Elementary.