Rice’s School Literacy and Culture supports children’s sharing of Harvey stories

A month and a half after Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey first struck Houston and led to extended school closures, more than 175 Houston-area early childhood educators gathered at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies’ Anderson-Clarke Center Oct. 14 for a Special Fall Summit, “Look for the Helpers, Listen for the Stories.” Participants took home a tote of resources and classroom materials that encouraged both teachers and children to discover the power of story and play to heal.

Houston-area early childhood educators gathered at Rice’s Glasscock School Oct. 14 to explore how to help young children learn and heal through play and storytelling.

Now the Glasscock School has produced a video to share the story of the summit, which was hosted by the school’s School Literacy and Culture (SLC) program and provided free to educators, thanks to the support of sponsors. Since 1988, SLC has been offering in-depth professional development that empowers teachers to translate current research on how young children learn to read and write into classroom practice.

“One of the things that we noticed through SLC at this particular summit was an opportunity to really emphasize the social and emotional needs of children,” said SLC Director Karen Capo. “We know that young children have stories to tell, stories to share, as long as we’re willing to listen. And we look forward to helping support Houston’s teachers as they work to do that with children across the Greater Houston community.”

Children look to educators as helpers and need opportunities to engage in meaningful conversation about Harvey, Capo said. Research shows that young children learn and heal through play, she said. Play offers children open-ended opportunities to engage in extended conversation and express their emotions in a safe environment, she said.

At the summit, breakout sessions centered on practical, hands-on activities that create safe spaces for children to talk with their teachers. “The conference provided teachers with research-based strategies to use throughout the classroom in the form of play,” said Vanessa Quezada Vierra, SLC’s bilingual literacy specialist. “Through dramatic play, through play with blocks, sensory bins, water tables, sand tables, story baskets (and) story acting. Not only did we provide teachers with the strategies to implement these activities in their classroom, but we were also very fortunate to be able to provide them with the materials they would need to implement these strategies when they entered the classroom on Monday morning.”

Listening to children process grief through classic stories such as “Three Little Pigs” has been both heartbreaking and enlightening, said Lauren Ledford, prekindergarten teacher at Houston Independent School District’s Farias Early Childhood Center. “As the children rebuild the world around them, processing their grief through story baskets and play has encouraged the children to keep pushing through the pain,” she said. “For my classroom, play and storytelling are the vehicles that are helping my students move from grief to acceptance.”

On Oct. 16, SLC also hosted a panel discussion at Rice, “Post Harvey: Leading Public Schools Through Change,” which explored how Houston public education leaders are addressing many post-Harvey issues. Panelists were Jeanette Byrd, principal, Cummings Elementary School; Dan De Leon, principal, Sharpstown High School; Michael McDonough, principal, Bellaire High School; David Muzyka, principal, T.H. Rogers School; and Juliet Stipeche, director of education, Houston Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives.

Capo and her colleagues are inviting Houston educators back to campus Jan. 13 for the Winter Early Literacy Summit on “Thinking Outside the Box: Promoting Higher-Order Thinking and Socio-Emotional Development in Early Childhood.” The event will feature a trauma track that will reprise much of the information from the Special Fall Summit.

“As Houston strives to move forward following the devastation caused by Harvey, we know that as teachers, it is critical that we meet both the socio-emotional and academic needs of our young children,” Capo said.

Houston teachers can register for the Winter Early Literacy Summit at http://glasscock.rice.edu/courses/winter-early-literacy-summit.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.