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Vickie Wang | Class of ’16 | April 27, 2015

It doesn’t seem quite right to call what I get to do through Community Bridges “work” because I would be more than willing to do this type of activity during my leisure time. Every Monday and Wednesday, I get to go to Small Steps Nurturing Center, a pre-school and kindergarten school that serves children in the Fifth Ward, a low-income district of Houston. I have the opportunity to work directly with the children in the classroom, assisting the teachers in implementing lessons, practicing speech with the children, and keeping the general order of the classroom, as well as doing administrative tasks to ensure the longevity of the Small Steps program. Though I’ve only been there for a couple of months, it has been incredible seeing the way the children have learned and matured during my brief time there!

Small Steps does a wonderful job of taking care of the child holistically. From the start of the day, members of the Small Steps staff pick up the children from their homes and transport them directly to the school. They also physically care for the children by providing two nutritious meals and a healthy snack and plenty of time for play, both indoors and outdoors. The teachers all are highly qualified and go to great lengths to patiently teach the children valuable academic and social skills as well. The children celebrate various holidays as a class, and each student is assigned a task to complete for the class, thus teaching them responsibility. These components all work together to give the child a well-rounded, intensive education in the hopes of preparing and propelling them through the public school system.

However, although the school is such a positive support network, it makes the contrast to the reality of these children’s lives all the more heartbreaking. The majority of the children come from minority, low-income households that rely on governmental programs because the income their families bring in is insufficient to adequately provide for their family. Many only have one parent. Others have parents with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Often, the children replicate the behavior of their surroundings, and it is jarring watching some of the things they do or say. Today, many of the children during play time pretended to be smoking cigarettes.

When I heard that this occurred, my heart dropped. It seemed absolutely inconceivable that these children would be doing actions that I was taught for as long as I can remember to never do. And yet, here they were, playing and having just as much fun doing this as they were when we sang the soundtrack to Frozen. It was scary to me that they were playing this, that they thought it was an acceptable behavior. Because if they believed it was acceptable now, the more likely they would actually do this when they were older…

It was also a moment of hope, though, because when one of the teachers noticed, he immediately went over and talked to the children about what it was they were pretending to do and the negative effects it had on their body if they were to actually smoke. Another teacher talked to the children about how they are all very creative and adventurous thinkers, and that they could do so much more with their play time than doing this.

Although I really appreciated the intervention and care by these teachers, it also reminded me of how much children are able to absorb and that unfortunately, the majority of their time, they are not in a positive, learning environment that can teach them the skills they need to succeed. They are at Small Steps for eight hours every day. That leaves them sixteen hours at home. Thus, it is crucial for the teachers and the parents to work together to encourage the development of the child, wherever they are.

Studies have shown that quality early education can have incredible effects for future achievement. I have no doubt that Small Steps Nurturing Center is such a quality institution, and it has been encouraging watching the children develop and become more confident in their skills and abilities. It has also been encouraging seeing the teachers working with the parents in assisting them in encouraging and challenging their child, sowing the seeds of success. This experience gave me hope – hope that there is a way for the children to get a quality education, to find exciting opportunities, to really excel! I am so grateful for Small Steps and the amazing staff that they have because they are showing me every day just how much a little bit of genuine care and love can go a long way in the lives of these children, their families, and the Fifth Ward community as a whole.