Ericka Ward ’08: Culturally sustaining early education
by Aaron Z. ’23
Ericka Ward ’08 is the director of early learning at the Raphah Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. The nonprofit’s Early Embrace program works to combat inequities in education by providing culturally sustaining early education for low-income Black families. Ericka recalls that her time at Lakeside shaped her understanding of education: “People really cared what I had to say, and the teachers would actually listen to me and ask questions, and the school was physically beautiful.” But on the hourlong bus ride from Rainier Beach to Lakeside, she noticed disparities between the communities. Her peers didn’t have the same resources, she says, and she didn’t have the same resources when she attended a public school.
In her work, Ericka aims to combat these inequities by providing accessible early learning programs. The early learning system is particularly rife with inequities, as early learning is not guaranteed like K-12 education in the U.S. This further exacerbates disparities in early education, when “the foundation for your life is being built,” Ericka says. She hopes to offer children “the beauty of education, listening to students, respecting their talents, giving them space to explore interests”— aspects of education that she loved at Lakeside, she points out. “I want the children that are in our programs to be able to experience the joy of learning.” By working to address educational inequities, Ericka is paying it forward from her Lakeside education.