March 24, 2023
For some children and families who live in local public housing, Reach for the Stars (RFTS) Child Development Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, is a safe haven – a joyful, loving place where they can be silly, feel respected and loved, and find constant reminders of the good that exists all around them, even when circumstances elsewhere might feel difficult.
“We have many kiddos in our center that live in Manchester Public Housing Development, and many have witnessed crime, violence and hardship,” said Playmaker Sue Lena, Assistant Director and Lead Teacher for Preschool and School programs at RFTS. “When children can laugh, be silly and have fun then they can feel safe, respected, and loved. They are reminded of all the good around them.”
As a teacher for over 25 years, Sue has made sure her classroom environment gives each child the opportunity to grow their confidence, experience joy, and to be able to explore and discover at their own pace and comfort level. “Providing a positive O’Playsis can relieve stress in a child’s day,” she said.
O’Playsis, a Playmaker term meaning an “oasis of play,” describes an optimal environment for healing, learning, and growth, because it supports children in freely and joyfully engaging, connecting, and exploring their surrounding world. For kids who have experienced great challenges, O’Playsis is essential for helping calm brain and nervous system alarms so the child can reengage in healthy relationship building, emotional regulation, and cognitive development.
Sue also incorporates her favorite superpowers – humor and fun – into her daily interactions, in the center and beyond. “Sue would go into the Housing Development to say hello to connect with the families and say hello to the kids on the playground, [and] play basketball with the school-age kids,” said Lisa Pease, Sue’s co-teacher, RTFS Director, and a fellow Playmaker. “The next day the kids would come tell me that they saw Miss Sue and ask her if she could come again.”
Lisa said the O’Playsis Sue creates at RFTS, and in her classroom, offers children an opportunity to immerse themselves in the moment. “It is spontaneous, never scripted, and always enjoyable. Sue greets the children daily with enthusiasm and a warm inviting smile [and] always makes everyone feel important and special,” she said. “Sue is an amazing early childhood educator. She makes a difference in every child’s life she touches… [and] she does it with compassion, humor, inspiration, and love.”
Positive interactions create relationships that can improve children’s physical and mental health and well-being, and support cognitive, academic, and social skill development. In care settings, these relationships also help decrease problem behaviors in children and increase parent engagement.
“Being a teacher isn’t just something Sue does, it’s something she is and something she loves to do,” said Lisa. “Sue’s students may forget what she said, but they will never forget how she made them feel.”
Sue first trained as a Playmaker in November 2009, and still regularly uses tools, activities, and approaches in her classroom and with staff. Some of her favorite “go to” Playmaker games are Team Juggle (to welcome a new student or teacher), Secret Safe Zone and Ultimate Chicken (“favorites for school-age kids”), and Taps (an “inclusive game for all ages, and a great way to start a staff meeting”).
“At the end of the day, I want [kids] to always know and remember that they are special, unique, loved and celebrated within my classroom environments for who they are,” Sue said. “My goal is for the kids to remember their time at RFTS as a time filled with many fond and happy memories.”