Op-Ed | School choice means more than choosing a curriculum

Your painting is beautiful, well done!
As part of National School Choice Week, school administrator Anexis Denis says the right preschool choice is pivotal toward child development.
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Across the country, families everywhere are preparing to make one of the biggest decisions related to their child’s education journey. No, not where their child should apply for college, rather, where they should send their child for preschool.

Preschool is the stepping stone for our children to start their education journey. As a parent and a preschool administrator, I’ve realized that how a child is first introduced to school and the learning environment are key to how they will view education in the future. As an administrator at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church Head Start Centers in Brooklyn for the last 21 years, I strive to ensure that introduction is a positive one. Our staff realizes that each family has a choice in where to send their child for preschool, so we work together to create the type of learning environment we would want for our own children.

It begins as soon as you enter the building at St. Mark’s. You immediately feel a sense of warmth and welcome. Walking in with your child you are always greeted by the front desk security guard. He smiles at every parent and greets all the children with a warm “good morning.” Whether one is a parent or a visitor walking into the building, you feel welcomed. This is an important aspect many overlook, but helps make St. Mark’s a great choice for families. Welcoming and acknowledging each person that walks through the door builds a relationship based on trust and comfort. As a parent you want to know that you are leaving your child in a healthy and safe environment.

The teaching staff is also central to St. Mark’s. The teachers greet each child individually. We recognize that each child is an individual person and has their own personality, and they respond favorably to an individualized greeting. The greeting that works for one child may not always work for another. However, the individual attention does not stop there, and the dedication that the teachers put into acknowledging and working with each child reaps great rewards in terms of academic achievement and an educator’s personal fulfillment.

Our education directors lead by example in terms of dedication. The amount of support and creativity that they bring to their staff and the program has allowed for the teaching staff to feel engaged and understood. They lead their department with positive feedback and teamwork.

St. Mark’s doesn’t only rely on curriculum to provide the best for its students, they also have family workers to support the entire family. Our family support staff assists families in need and provides parents with another support system that many have never had.

As the Family and Community Partnerships director my role is to provide families with social services support. This ensures that we provide children with long lasting educational support, and support for their families as well. As part of my role, I help families find the social services resources they need, including health and mental health resources.

While our families choose to send their children to St. Mark’s, our educators are also making a choice. Many forget that educators also have a choice in where to teach. As an administrator, it is my responsibility to ensure that we provide a welcoming environment for our staff as well. By providing health and mental health resources for our staff, we can facilitate positive interactions with their students and families.

The ability to choose to teach at St. Mark’s provides our staff with the professional and personal fulfillment that develops them into even better educators. They, in turn, are able to provide our children with a positive educational environment for them to learn, develop and thrive.

As we celebrate National School Choice Week, I’m proud to celebrate my school and the choice it offers our families and educators alike.

Anexis Denis is a resident of the Bronx and serves as the Family and Community Partnership director for St. Mark’s United Methodist Church Head Start Centers. 

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