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Department Highlight: Early Childhood

The Ithaca City School District’s Early Childhood Department applies the ICSD’s key levers of responsiveness, inclusion, and innovation to its youngest learners.
The department, which consists of 66 teachers and staff members, works to support Pre-K students, families, and staff through practices that affirm children and families; provide reflective and thoughtful practice; and encourage creativity, mastery, and purpose.
This year, staff have focused on increasing support to students who are English language learners and their families. In all, Pre-K students speak 17 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Burmese, and Thai.
A budding partnership with the district’s English as a New Language (ENL) staff has led to new ways to support Pre-K students and families, said Daphne Shululu, the department’s master educator. Integrating ENL support will help ease the transition from Pre-K to kindergarten, when formal ENL services begin, and will allow Pre-K teachers to better include students’ native languages and understand their experiences in the classroom.
During a recent professional development activity led by ICSD ENL Coordinator Emily Ufford, staff received a lesson taught entirely in Chinese – once straight through, then a second time using illustrations and repetition to improve their understanding of the material. The activity helped teachers to “experience themselves what it feels like to be in a classroom where you don’t understand the language,” Shululu said.
Other recent initiatives, like a partnership with the Ithaca-based national nonprofit Children’s Reading Connection that provided multilingual translations of Suzanne Bloom’s book “The Bus for Us” to Pre-K families, have helped to promote literacy while maintaining the use of a family’s native language.
Even the process of enrolling in Pre-K is becoming more culturally response – the office is considering a mural that welcomes families in all 17 languages, as well as amending the Pre-K application to include Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish introductions and instructions on how to request enrollment assistance.
The department also plans to integrate augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices into some Pre-K classrooms. Some students use augmented voice devices on iPads to help them communicate. As part of a new program under development, students and staff will all learn to use the AAC devices, helping those who use them to “feel affirmed and feel like their voice belongs in the classroom,” Shululu said.
Teachers are currently strategizing how to use the devices in class and keep track of how the initiative improves speech, usage, and literacy development.

Belle Sherman
Beverly J Martin
Cayuga Heights
Fall Creek
South Hill
Boynton Middle
DeWitt Middle
Ithaca HS
Lehman Alternative


Ithaca City School District
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent
400 Lake Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-2101