An Address from the President of HighScope

by Dr. Alejandra Barraza | October 15, 2021

Alejandra Barraza

From left: Heidi McFadden, Senator Jeff Irwin, Dr. Alejandra Barraza, and Michelle Richards, display a Special Tribute from the State of Michigan.

Last September, I was honored to join the HighScope Educational Research Foundation as the fifth President in 50 years. In just one short year, the HighScope team has been able to accomplish a great deal together.

The beginning of the pandemic presented very different challenges from what we are currently facing. Now, a year and a half into a radically changed world, the biggest issues facing teachers and parents today may not be uncertainty and fear, but burnout and exhaustion.

What has kept us focused, united, and committed to our mission—ensuring that children across the world have access to a high-quality early childhood education—throughout the difficulties of the past year is the strength of our passion and the depth of our purpose. These two ideas—passion and purpose—are intrinsically linked within the HighScope approach to learning, and are essential components of a teacher’s mindset.

I want to share a story that I often turn to when I want to remind myself and others of the true impact of what we do as HighScope practitioners, what we mean when we say we believe in this approach to early childhood education—a story about a student named Marlon.

Marlon was a student at the Detroit-based pilot HighScope Head Start classroom at Southeast Children and Families Center. As a preschooler, Marlon visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and stated “That’s what I’m going to do when I grow up.” Marlon’s pre-K teacher remembers about him that, “Marlon was an incredibly detail-oriented student who stuck to his plan. He always talked about rockets, and if he was in the block area, he was building a rocket.”​ Because Marlon was in a HighScope program, he was able to follow his passion—he was able to turn what might have been a passing interest, through planning, playing, and reviewing his progress, into his life’s purpose.

Today, Marlon is an aerospace engineer who has worked for NASA since he landed a college internship there some 15 years ago.​ Because he was encouraged in his passion, he was able to turn it into a purpose—to deepen his knowledge and understanding of engineering, and to thrive as a trailblazer and a leader in his field.

While Marlon deserves the lion’s share of credit for his years of hard work, the undersung hero of that story is Marlon’s preschool teacher, who paid attention to his intrinsic motivations. She noticed his strengths, and scaffolded his exploration and natural inclinations toward problem-solving, building, and innovating. This is why HighScope believes so strongly in a child-centered approach to learning. By encouraging children’s passions, HighScope teachers, through encouraging and questioning, lead children to discover purpose within their passions—how they might turn an interest or a talent into a meaningful path through life.

Passion leads us to purpose, and as educators, we need both elements to sustain our energy and accomplish our goals. As educators, we have followed our passion and chosen a highly purposeful role in life, a noble and necessary position tasked with scaffolding the learning of the next generation, helping them become the best version of themselves that they can be.

As a part of the global HighScope network, we know that you want to ensure the children in your classrooms receive a high-quality early childhood education—that they develop socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively, and that they receive the greatest level of support possible. This work is often difficult, presenting new challenges every day, and over the past year, we have been tested in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. Yet you have continued to show up for the children in your classrooms, and have found new ways to draw out creativity, integrity, and excellence in your teaching.

I hope that the following year is filled with inspiration, innovation, and generative conversation between educators. When we gather together to share our insights, challenges, and solutions, the passion igniting all of us burns brighter, and spreads, furthering the strength of our purpose together.


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