Op-Ed for Runta News by ZamZam Mohamed
The Immigrant and Refugee communities in Washington are growing. 29% of all young children ages 0 to 5 are from Immigrant families. As this community grows, so too do the needs to support our children and families with culturally responsive education programs. This is especially true for our youngest leaners – babies and toddlers – who are developing so quickly that quality early education can make a lifetime difference for them. That’s why I support the current Legislative proposals for Washington state to expand affordable childcare and preschool opportunities for our families.
When I moved here at 13 from Somalia, I struggled to find an identity in this new culture, new language, new land. It was hard to navigate the opportunities available to me, and even to find friends who I could connect with.
In High School, I started working with elementary schools helping young children with literacy. I then got involved in their after-school program and continued to connect with kids in my community. I was proud to be someone those children could identify with. I could see how these early connections made such a big impact for children.
This inspired me to earn my degree in early education and eventually co-found Voices of Tomorrow (VOT). Our mission is to preserve Immigrant and Refugee children’s identity through culturally responsive child-focused programs. Voices of Tomorrow creates early learning programs that preserve a child’s culture/language, while advancing African indigenous parenting practices and community-driven narratives. VOT helps preserve children’s heritage languages through a first in the nation Somali/English dual language preschool program.
Dual-language, culturally relevant programs within a quality early learning setting can set our children up for positive growth, development and academic achievement later on. We partner with education providers to deliver the state’s quality early learning curriculum, embedded with our culturally responsive curriculum. These programs help kids retain their language while the navigate their family culture and the Washington school system. They are critical to ensure we can eliminate racial inequalities in the early learning system. Equity should start at birth.
That’s why we have also built an adult education program to support healthy children at home and in school. Families involved with children from birth through 5 can access a range of resources including home visits for new parents, parent trainings, ongoing education (sometimes with college credit attached), and a built-in community network.
Navigating the early learning system in Washington is hard for families in the best of circumstances. But, like I struggled to navigate resources when I was younger, so too do many Immigrant and Refugee families now. We don’t have schools – we’re building from the ground up. We need tools, resources and funding to truly empower our communities to access, or create new, opportunities for our children.
The proposals being considered in the Washington Legislature expand our state’s quality childcare, pre-school, and family support including capacity building for dual-language early learning programs, and offers opportunities for our community to lead efforts in how the state builds dual language requirements in early learning. These proposals can help expand the critical programs we provide for children and families.
Our community must take the lead. This Legislative session we have an opportunity to use our voices and collective wisdom to fight for our children and provide them the resources and tools they need to thrive while they navigate their family culture in Washington.
Join me in supporting early childcare and learning opportunities for our children and families today.