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Quality Learning and Care That Women of Color Providers Bring Amidst COVID-19


By JunHee Doh and Ernesto Saldaña

As seen in the story of Esperanza, women—largely women of color and immigrant women—in California are keeping the early learning and care field afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Recognition of early learning and care as essential infrastructure must include valuing, adequately compensating, and providing support and resources for the early educators who work tirelessly to ensure both the well-being of children under their care and their own families. 

While Esperanza navigates the challenges of providing home-based learning and care during COVID-19, she continues to bring tremendous community cultural wealth and high-quality care to the families she serves. Women of color providers constitute a great number of early educators and serve young children who come from linguistically diverse families. They understand that their home languages and cultures are strengths. Like Esperanza, they are hungry for more resources and trainings to better support their learning and to affirm these strengths. Early childhood caregivers understand that children build on their learning from connections they bring from their families and cultures.

For far too long, the early learning and care field has had a limited definition of what constitutes foundational elements of “quality”—with culture and language landing outside this definition. Under Esperanza’s roof, quality and culture are one and the same. Prior to and during COVID-19, Esperanza continues to seek out training and resources to deepen her practice to support the dual language learner (DLL) children under her care—who are acquiring English in addition to their home language. For Esperanza, her children’s Latinx culture and language are uplifted and celebrated in their learning.

Parents choose Esperanza because of her connection to culture, language, and overall experience as a Latina provider who leads instruction in Spanish, the home language of the children she serves. Her children’s experiences are validated with learning rooted in pictures, posters, and artwork that reflect their families’ cultural traditions, serving as a bridge to new concepts that prepare them for kindergarten. They engage in rich oral language with hands-on activities that bring concepts to life.

Children develop pre-literacy skills while learning new vocabulary in Spanish as they learn about farm animals using songs their parents were raised on, like “Rookoo-a-rookoo” and “Los Pollitos.” There is rich learning in children exploring the history of Día de los Muertos while making calaveras or a traditional holiday piñata with “Abu” (short for “abuela”)—which is how they refer to their teacher. Children experience a safe, caring space that supports healthy brain, physical and social-emotional development, as well as a healthy self-identity that will support their long-term student success.

However, it continues to be challenging to find linguistically accessible training that is available for providers during the evenings or weekends, and even more challenging to find professional development around DLL-specific best practices and strategies. This is concerning as DLLs make up 60 percent of children from birth to age five in California, and DLLs in communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and early learning program closures. Across the state, there are extremely limited opportunities for training, coaches, professional development support structures, and resources to appropriately support the unique strengths and needs of DLLs. 

Providers like Esperanza need:

  • Linguistically diverse resources that go beyond direct translations to include culturally relevant content that the children, families, and providers can relate to, and that support the home language development of DLL children.
  • Resources, training, coaching, and professional development focused on serving DLL children, designed around the scheduling needs of ELC providers during the pandemic.
  • Compensation and credit for providers engaging in quality improvement professional development.

We stand at a critical juncture in 2021, amidst the pandemic and racial reckoning, where we envision an early learning system that explicitly acknowledges that language, race, and culture are central components of quality, and invests in a field of providers abundant with cultural and linguistic wealth. Providers should be supported to create safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments where children and families of color are seen as who they are: whole. A child’s home language and culture are central to their love of learning, healthy growth, and development.

Advancement Project California launched our early learning and care blog series to show how California has the opportunity to take bold steps to build an early learning and care system that addresses the foundations of systemic racism, racial equity, and economic justice. Read more below, and check back daily through January 29th for new updates.