This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
My name is Sheri Rios and I am the Preschool Director for the Elizabeth Peabody House (EPH) preschool in Somerville, Mass. I have worked for EPH for 18 years.
I have always felt a connection with children, “I get them and they get me.” My very first job, when I was 14, was babysitting, and I have been on that path ever since. I did two years of early childhood education at Somerville High School, and I worked as an assistant at EPH’s Peabody Ames Preschool. I returned to EPH a few years later after I had my first child. I worked my way up from preschool teacher, to lead teacher, and then director.
My childhood was tumultuous, and I lived in foster homes for two years as a teenager because of abuse and neglect. I feel that time in my life has molded me into the parent, educator and director I am today. I was blessed to have my Nana in my life becasue for every horrible thing that would happen, she would make up for it with love and affirmation. I realized that every child needs at least one person in their life who loves them unconditionally.
Childhood is a road that is traveled only once, so I have made it my mission to be that person to support every child that I work with. As a director, I have instilled this in my staff. My family was very good at looking good on the outside, but behind closed doors there was so much more going on. I feel that it is important to keep this in mind while working with children. When they leave us, it is our most fervent hope that they are being loved and cared for, but the truth is we just don’t know.
Every child regardless of race, socio-economic status, gender, or temperament deserves a strong foundation of education, connection and resiliency. I feel my super powers are letting children know that they are loved — and my ability to be silly. Teachers sometimes get so overwhelmed that they lose their “silly”.
I strive to see each child as an individual, with unlimited potential. My favorite quote comes from Fredrick Douglass. He said, “It is easier to build strong children, then to repair broken men.”
My educational path has been long but rewarding. As a single parent of two sons, paying for my education was not possible. Elizabeth Peabody House paid for many of my first classes as I moved up from teacher to lead teacher and then director. I applied for Massachusetts’ Early Childhood Scholarship around 2012, and I was able to complete my prerequisite classes to complete my associate’s degree in 2014. I graduated with honors.
In 2016, once again with the help of the Early Childhood Educator Scholarship, I enrolled in a program through Lesley University for students who had graduated from community college. I am in accelerated classes and take four classes per semester. I will be completing my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood in the spring of 2019. I tell my staff that “When Sheri goes to school, we ALL go to school” meaning that I try to use the information in my classes to better the program, myself as an educator, and my staff. This applies to all classes, including Yoga therapy. I was able to introduce yoga to my preschoolers and they LOVED it!
I think that policymakers should realize that as a society we are often reactive instead of proactive. There is so much development that takes place in the first five years of life and we also know that adverse childhood trauma can effect children far into adulthood. Our focus as a society should be on giving children the strongest start. Quality early childhood education should be open to all children with the hope of preparing them for their future.
At our preschool we focus on preparing the whole child. We work on letter and number recognition and writing their names, but we also work on fostering resiliency. Each room has a “cozy corner” where children can go and re-group. We let children know that their feelings are welcome here, and we model mindfulness strategies to help children work through big feelings. Children are people who have the full range of human emotions, and they need to know that those feelings are real — and know what to do with them. If we are going to be proactive as a society, we need to support children as a whole, and not just boost their test scores or reading levels.
I have two favorite books! Owl Babies by Martin Waddell is a great book for children who are newly transitioning; it shows three baby owls waiting for their mom to return and she DOES!!! My personal favorite is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. The first time I read it to a preschool class, I had not read it before and cried while I read it to them. This led to a great conversation with the class about different feelings that make you feel like crying, plus as the mother of two boys, the experience of reading this book is just beautiful.