Igniting the Spark: the Love of Learning

This post is one in a series on ED Goes Back to School, a program that integrates ED employees into diverse classrooms.

We all know that ‘a-ha’ moment. You remember the teacher that made your world open up in new ways, or the moment you saw a child’s eyes light up in understanding. Love for learning starts early. To celebrate these everyday small moments of joy, the US Department of Education embarked on a week-long journey, visiting several Early Learning Programs in the DC metro area. Highlights below:

Place-Based Learning

ED staff visited different programs in the DC metro area, including Educare whose work with the homeless ties directly to the White House Place-based initiative pilot. Following the visit, staff from different program offices gathered to share their takeaways. Kimberlin Butler, an analyst with the Office of Innovation and Improvement, found that “talking to those communities about their early learning models and getting the leaders to be empathetic to the different situations students enrolled” underscores the importance of place-based learning.


ED was also able to visit CentroNía, an early learning program that teaches children in a dual-language English/Spanish Early Learning environment. The program uses a co-teaching model, with two teachers providing instruction in either Spanish or English. ED employees who visited observed that the program was not just teaching a second language, but bilingualism, as the school shared that many families speak both English and Spanish at home.

Global Competence

We live in an increasingly connected world. At School Within School, children maintained their community garden, infusing science into nurturing the environment. Rebecca Miller, who works in the International Affairs Office, shared a small moment of joy while climbing a staircase during her visit: “I ran into a music teacher, carrying a guitar…he met his students for music class and they sang the going up the stairs song.” SWS retweeted the video, with the hashtag “#nothing without joy”. This sums up what early learning is about: the openness of embracing all things.

The Power of Early Learning

ED Goes Back to School provided the opportunity for the Department of Education to connect their work to various innovative models of Early Learning. The consensus was that these visits gave us a better understanding of how Early Learning is at the ground level. Teacher Ambassador Fellow Meredith Morelle shared how “the Policy office is P-12 and the emphasis needs to be on the P part, not K or 1. It is important that policymakers see practice. As an educator, it is important to have an understanding of pre-k.”

Ultimately, after visiting and sharing their impressions, everyone agreed on the most important takeaway of their school visits: it takes hard work to educate all kids.

 Alicia Pérez-Katz is a 2015 Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.