Steeped in a culture of anti-bias work at the Peabody Terrace Children’s Center, Kendra PeloJoaquin realized two years ago that she wanted to add a class lens to the work that the teachers and administrators were doing with the internationally diverse infants, toddlers and families.
The Harvard-affiliated independent nonprofit is built on four pillars. It teaches children to feel positive about themselves, feel positive about others, to see injustice and want to end it. Kendra knew that helping the staff and administrators understand class and classism would be central to helping the children in their care achieve these outcomes.
While the center, which primarily serves upper-middle class families, had provided rich anti-racism staff development training, it had not focused on class. “We know that kids see race,” states Kendra. “We looked at racism. Our teachers are mostly white and found this work life changing.”
They were able to discuss things in a way that felt safe. The most powerful comments during the training were from the people who grew up poor and the most advantaged.”
But Kendra knew that children also see class even if they do not know how to articulate it as clearly. There are class differences between the families, current students in Harvard’s professional schools, and the teachers – many of whom are degreed but whose income and wealth are solidly working-class. “Children see class – the way people speak and dress,” she explains.
So although it took a while to bring a workshop on class to the center, the August 2017 workshop has already had benefits. “People refer to the training as a shared experience,” explains Kendra. “They don’t talk about the impact of the training as much as they see it. This is a really powerful effect.
“They were able to discuss things in a way that felt safe. The most powerful comments during the training were from the people who grew up poor and the most advantaged.”
During the training, the staff was able to share parts of themselves in ways that they had not before. According to Kendra, they were able be more authentic with each other. For example, one young woman who is always being told by other staff that she needs to have a better work/life balance revealed that she had grown up poor and felt driven to work very hard.
“Without Class Action, we would not have the tools to talk about class. More important, we would not have permission,” comments Kendra.