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Swimming into Preschool: Walruses Graduate!

By YWCA Minneapolis
September 13, 2023
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YWCA Minneapolis Early Childhood Education equips children with the knowledge and skills to reach their potential. By delivering the utmost care, all our teachers create lasting impressions on children as they learn to grow with YWCA Minneapolis and beyond. What follows is this year’s graduation speech from our Midtown Early Childhood Education lead teacher, Anisa Lester. Read her own words below.

Swimming into Preschool

Welcome to YWCA Midtown preschool graduation! Thank you all so much for coming and taking time out of work and out of your busy lives to celebrate these fantastic children. I also want to thank all of our swim teachers who are here today for all the work they have done with our class over the past couple of years to help them not only learn how to swim but also how to be safe around water, whether that is at the lake or on deck.

Early learners with their swim instructors

Whenever I get ready to give one of these graduation speeches, I always spend a couple of days thinking about what I want to highlight, what makes this class stand out and what sets it apart from others.

As I thought about all the memories, I kept returning to one central theme with this class: the conversations among children. Whether these were structured conversations or not, I was always impressed by how the Walruses dove into topics and were willing to share their ideas, observations and comments.

During our more structured topics, such as when we learned about melanin, we discussed how different amounts of melanin correspond to different skin tones. We compared our skin color to those in our class and realized that even siblings didn’t have the same skin color. We all have different skin tones because we have different amounts of melanin. But we didn’t stop the conversation there. We dove into race and structural racism at a four- to five-year-old level.

“I was amazed that these children immediately started saying things like, ‘That’s not fair’ or ‘Why would people do that to others?’  These observations and comments were something we talked about across topics, whether it was learning about race, gender, disability, or even space.” – Anisa

Walrus student with Midtown lead teacher, Anisa Lester

I think the entire year sums up perfectly with a comment one of the Walruses made on a field trip a couple of weeks ago. We had made our lunches and carried them about a mile to Powderhorn Park to play and picnic. I was a little nervous about whether we would make it without tears. During the walk there, the Walruses were smiling, saying “Hello” and “Good morning,” and giving fist bumps to everyone we passed. At one point, I turned to the Walruses and said, “You all are so friendly. I love it!” Without skipping a beat, one of the Walruses said,

“That’s because we’re Walruses. We’ve learned to be nice!”

That comment made me so proud because, in the end, that is what we were focused on in the Walrus room: learning how to be kind, contributing and caring members of our community. All the conversations along the way were moments for us to recognize and learn about people who are different from us, to open our eyes to injustice and to fight against it, and here was this five-year-reminding me that they had this down.

I said this last year and I think it is getting more challenging each year, but losing the Walruses will impact our class dramatically, and it will take some getting used to. I told the Walruses I felt emotional last night, but I would do my best not to be sad today.