St. Joseph kindergarten teacher Brooke Schmitz loves the diversity in her classroom. The challenge, however, is fostering inclusion.

“There weren’t a lot of books in my classroom that told stories about different cultures or different experiences growing up,” Ms. Schmitz said. “I want to create enthusiastic readers. I thought if they could relate the books to themselves, they would be more willing to read.”

Ms. Schmitz applied for a grant through the Calhoun Intermediate School District and was awarded funding through the Guido A. and Elizabeth H. Binda Foundation for a diversity library.

The money purchased over $600 worth of books with diverse stories and faces, some even written in both Spanish and English. There are biographies of important people from underrepresented groups, complete with beautiful illustrations to catch the eyes of early readers.

“They really got excited when the books arrived,” Ms. Schmitz said. “Just from reading aloud the first couple stories, I noticed they were starting to have conversations amongst themselves about the different ways people grew up.”

Once, after reading Sojourner Truth’s biography, class discussion turned to people treating others differently based on outside appearances.

“They were quick to say, ‘That’s not fair,’ ‘That’s rude,’ ‘That’s not very nice,’” Ms. Schmitz said. “They are so quick to realize hurtfulness in some of the stuff that I’ve read.”

Ms. Schmitz plans to take these books, and the conversations they spark, outside the classroom.

“I want to have a family reading bag where each student would choose a book to take home and read with their family,” Ms. Schmitz said.

After reading the story, the family would answer prepared questions together, which the student would then share with the class.

The grant also helped Ms. Schmitz foster inclusion in another critical area. Many kindergarten subjects involve art, which presents a challenge when it comes to creating self-portraits or pictures of family and friends.

“I was able to purchase multicultural paints, paper, and markers for art projects,” Ms. Schmitz said. “We have colors to create all skin tones.”

Crayons and books may seem like small things, but they are the primary learning tools of kindergarteners. A more just and equitable future starts in classrooms such as Ms. Schmitz’s, a responsibility she takes seriously.

“I hope my students will take the initiative to make friends that don’t necessarily look, act, or even have the same likes as them,” Ms. Schmitz said.

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