What can you say about forty-three five and six year olds? They are hilarious without even trying. They wiggle. The squirm. They have to move. Keeping still is like trying to tell the sun not to rise. Impossible! They can’t even be bothered to answer a few questions for this story. After all, it is recess time. They are this year’s group of Kindergartners. Mrs. Julia Whitt teaches in Room 113. Mr. Art Sato teaches in Room 111.
If you happen to be in the building when the children have gotten settled following morning circle, you may be treated to the voices of Mr. Sato’s Kinders singing the “Good Morning Song”. It’s a catchy, little tune that gets them focused and ready for a day of learning. You may hear Emmanuel yell out, during rug time, “Mr. Sato, somebody whispered!” You may get to watch Mr. Sato assign the children classroom duties. You may see Cypress and Poet happily accept their jobs as line leader and caboose. You may get to participate with Mrs. Whitt’s Kinders in their “Community Circle”. You may get to smell the pine cone covered with cinnamon oil and share with the community what it makes you think of, or how it makes you feel. You may hear Havana say it reminds her of the oatmeal her mommy cooks because it’s sprinkled with cinnamon. Or Rowan refusing to express her thoughts until everyone is sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the rug. Or Rashad saying, “I’m gonna pass.” Or Mrs. Whitt telling the children that she loves the smell and the pine cone because it reminds her of Cambria Pines by the Sea, where she will go when she’s no longer a classroom teacher.
Mr. Sato and Mrs. Whitt: between the two of them there are 35 years of teaching Kindergarten at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, in the same classes that they use now. They couldn’t be more different, but are both equally committed to meeting the critical needs of diverse learners when resources and support are limited, and schools are becoming more data driven and pressured by high stakes testing. When Mr. Sato is not teaching he enjoys traveling, reading, listening to music, drawing, painting, watching sports and hosting a Jazz and Latin Music radio program on KPFA in Berkeley. He shares his love of Jazz with his students and even manages to incorporate this love into his class. All around the room you will find pictures of jazz legends. Earlier this year his Kinders even celebrated the great Sonny Rollin’s birthday. Mr. Sato’s teaching style is a lot like jazz, a mixture of tradition and non-tradition. It’s a mix of structure and spontaneity, composition and improvisation, while giving each child the opportunity to express their own natural creativity and intelligence. Mrs. Whitt has always had fantasies about working in a children’s book store because she loves children’s books. Just enter her room and you’ll see this love reflected all over the walls that are covered with poster-sized book covers. When she reads a story to her students and they are completely entranced and they say “READ IT AGAIN” when she’s finished gives her great joy. “Creating, Acting, Changing — That is eternal joy.” That is Mrs. Whitt’s ideal classroom. In Room 113 she is the director of a great play that changes daily. The characters, costumes, stage sets change, and they are always learning new dialogue and ways to communicate.
Both teachers want to see a continued commitment to civil rights and social justice at HMCRA.
Why? Mr. Sato answers, “Because deep injustices and inequities persist in our society. It is critical that we develop empathy and compassion in young people, to care for others and our endangered planet. It’s important that children have models of resistance, like Dr. King and Cesar Chavez, to inspire them to care about peace and social justice. Children need to learn that, beyond “heroes”, ordinary people make history. Every individual can make a difference and collectively we can struggle to make our society and world more just and humane.”
Why? Mrs. Whitt answers, “Because like Harvey Milk and Barack Obama, I have to believe in HOPE and know that we are all in this together. Schools should be a place where justice is both learned and practiced, where racism and economic inequality are confronted, and where children are free of other forms of oppression, such as gender equality and able-ism. When we do not take up these struggles, our silence supports the status quo.”