Sumiya with one of her young students.

The small classroom at Carnation Learning Center was full of mesmerized toddlers who sat motionless listening to their teacher. All eyes were on Ms. Sumiya as she gave an interactive vocabulary lesson about sea creatures. Her only tools were her laptop Power Point and her captivating presence that transfixed the students. Preschool teachers have always been my heroes. Corralling wiggly preschoolers, teaching them the skills they need, and launching them on a happy career of learning takes more patience than most of us possess. The love of learning is a priceless gift to give any child but it is life-altering for a child from a disadvantaged background. While all kids benefit from preschool, poor and disadvantaged kids often make the most gains. Researchers who study pre-K education often find that children who have had early experiences of economic scarcity and insecurity gain more from these programs than their more advantaged peers.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sumiya to learn more about her. She told me she had always wanted to be a teacher. Her childhood wasn’t easy; her mother died when she was 5 years old. Her father married again and her stepmother was neglectful and alienated Sumiya and her two sisters from their father. The three girls huddled together and their impenetrable bond continues today. Though she had always dreamed of being a teacher, Sumiya married at age 18 after graduating from secondary school and soon became a mother. When her children became teenagers she pursued her dream and went back to school to get certified as a teacher. She has worked at Carnation Learning Center for 7 years and has turned down multiple promotions so she can stay in the classroom. She approached Carnation’s director a few years ago and said she wanted to move with her class each year instead of graduating them to another teacher. The director agreed and she has happily provided a rare constancy for children who experience multiple upheavals common to living in poverty.

I asked Sumiya about the “weeds and flowers” of working with underprivileged children. She knew what I meant. She explained that the teachers go with the social workers on home visits to meet the parents of prospective students. The “weeds” are the conditions that some of the families face such as one-room homes with mud floors, sheet metal roofs, no running water, and community toilets. Witnessing the dire circumstances the children come from makes Sumiya more determined to make sure each of the children in her care is successful. “I treat them as my children,” she proudly stated. But it isn’t easy. She has to start at a basic level since the children come to Carnation with no fine motor experience and lack social skills. The “flowers” are students like Safa, who attended Sumiya’s class as a preschooler. I had met Safa earlier that day at Crystal School where Safa is attending third grade thanks to a scholarship from The Kiran Anjali Project. She is a top student in her class. “She is brilliant!” Sumiya boasted. Sumiya sees Safa every day at Carnation Learning Center’s after school support program where Safa gets homework help. Sumiya and Safa get to maintain their special bond thanks to this important program.

Donors like you are making a big impact by investing in teachers like Sumiya. These educators are levelling the playing field so their young students can compete with their more advantaged peers in primary school and beyond. An amazing teacher in a quality preschool will pay dividends for years and generations to come. Thank you!