05/16/2022: Today we capped off our pre-presentation lessons by visiting a community center. Specifically, we were very fortunate to tour the West Smethwick Enterprise (WSE) Ladywood Family Centre. This charity is one of 5 sites around Smethwick and Sandwell. These areas have high unemployment rates and low-income rates, so children are at a disadvantage.
WSE focuses on empowering families to make the best decisions for their children. Working alongside families allows for the promotion of agency in their lives. WSE takes a holistic approach to communities, by offering a plethora of resources to families and children. Through the NHS, UK citizens are offered 15 hours of free childcare a week; however, if individuals are unemployed, then beginning at the age of 2, children are eligible for additional hours of childcare. This allows for their parents or caretakers to allocate their time in the best ways possible.
We learned that the community that WSE serves is quite diverse, so the WSE instructors must cater to the unique background of each student. At this particular center, there is an extremely large Polish and Middle Eastern community. WSE chooses to adapt to the communities they serve rather than pushing children to drop their mother tongues/cultures. Valuing each other’s diverse perspectives allow for a community to grow and flourish.
A really interesting distinction we learned about earlier on this trip is the language used to describe people who do not utilize English as their primary language. In the UK these people are classified as English as an Additional Language (EAL), whereas in the US we refer to this as English Language Learners (ELL). The EAL distinction demonstrates respect for the former languages that an individual knows. At WSE they prioritize the retention of mother tongues/cultures by reading books to children in Polish and Arabic.
We also learned about systemic inequality that exists within the educational systems. One of the most jarring themes of the week was starting off on the wrong foot. Many children in the Smethwick area start off by not meeting educational standards when it comes to reading, language development, and socialization cues. When children do not meet certain thresholds beginning in the early years, they are less likely to succeed later in life. Indicators like poverty can tell how likely a person is to continue their education and do well. This shows that socioeconomic status brings student achievement down.
I also thought the wide range of toys children have access to at WSE is amazing! Children can play in the sensory room which has many odds and ends that aid in fine motor skills and textures. There is also a small library where children can work on their literacy skills. When we visited today, I was pleasantly surprised at the wide range of books. Children are exposed to science, math, humanities, and more! My favorite book was one about the human body. Similarly, there were some pretty cool toys for the children like stethoscopes and a kitchen set. It is really important that children can see themselves having these careers. A student’s background should not hold them back from achieving their dreams.
Later in the day, we attended a lecture about social work. This lecture solidified what we had learned prior in the week. First, nurses and educators need to advocate for their students, especially individuals they suspect may need physical, mental, or academic help. The NHS is great in many ways, however, the process of getting a referral for an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP), and a formal diagnosis is quite extensive. It can take up to 3 years in the public sector to receive adequate aid; further, the be re-assessed, students must go through the entire process again. When children need additional help in the classroom they may be allowed to attend a Special School, however, they may just attend a Comprehensive School and receive a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo). This is where teachers and nurses come in. If a student is falling behind, they may be the first people to notice.
It is important to know about resources for children in order to offer the best support. One thing I learned about on this trip is Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). I am from Ohio, but I will be a registered nurse in Pennsylvania. It is really important to know about the free resources that my future patients will need, and be able to offer support to families accessing them. We finished off the day by doing a meet & greet with some nursing students at BCU. Over some grade-A pizza, I gained some insight into what being a nursing student is like in the UK. Who knows, I may need to study abroad again!?!