CII Values Equity: Early Education & Community

May 6, 2019
Ryan Imondi

Elizabeth Vasquez runs into her students and their families outside of school all of the time. When filling her gas tank, eating dinner in a restaurant or shopping for groceries, it’s common for her to look up and see one of her students waving at her. Every time this happens, she enthusiastically stops to catch up, even if she saw them just an hour ago in class.

For Vasquez, each encounter is a chance to embrace her neighbors. As a Head Start teacher at Children’s Institute at Jordan Downs, seeing her students in the community is just one of the many things Vasquez considers a highlight of her job.

Vasquez grew up in South LA and has lived and taught in the same neighborhood for the past five years. With such close ties to her community, she is especially welcoming to every student she teaches. This commitment to serve her own community exemplifies EQUITY, one of CII’s four core values. 

All of CII’s early education sites welcome diverse populations and communities, and classrooms are a gathering place for different races, religions and cultures. As a teacher, maintaining an inclusive and equitable atmosphere is essential to a rich educational experience.

When I come into class each day, I treat everyone with the same level of respect

Elizabeth Vasquez, Head Start Teacher at Jordan Downs

Vasquez views schools as a place where all children should be seen as equals and given a fair shot at success. When this doesn’t happen, she says, students suffer and learning is impacted.

“When I come into class each day, I treat everyone with the same level of respect,” she said. “All of my students are different so I do everything I can to meet them at their level and address their needs.”

Vasquez has held this belief since starting her career in early childhood education in 2003. When she moved to CII in 2014 for her first role in a Head Start classroom, she appreciated the program and organization aligning with her values of classroom equality, while giving her additional opportunities to build strong connections with her students and their families.

This level of familiarity gives her the ability to make referrals to other community-based services when she notices a family is facing challenges. If a family is struggling with food insecurity or needs help finding a therapist, Vasquez connects them with a family services worker, who links them to needed resources.

This type of understanding and influence aligns with the philosophy of Head Start. Created as an anti-poverty initiative in the 1960s, Head Start programs go beyond teaching the basics to kids who are living in poverty. Studies show that kids growing up in poverty were far behind their peers before their first day of kindergarten, setting them up for major challenges throughout their academic career.

Head Start by design is a program that is anchored in equity and closes the education gap by giving kids free access to early education in communities with limited access so when Vasquez creates a classroom where children feel equal and supported, she is reducing the impact of poverty and setting kids up for success.

She’s always there for the students and has a lot of love to give .

Monique Anderson, Site Supervisor at Jordan Downs

Monique Anderson, Site Supervisor for Vasquez’s Head Start at Jordan Downs, said Vasquez does all of this work naturally. Anderson said Vasquez does a great job balancing different needs and backgrounds through flexibility and an altruistic view of education.

“She’s always there for the students and has a lot of love to give,” she said. “Her energy and loving personality comes through with everything she does.”

This energy and investment in her community is why Vasquez stays involved in the lives of her kids, even after the school day is over and she has left the classroom. Running into a student and saying hello while picking up dinner isn’t a hindrance – it’s another opportunity to support her community.