Marjorie Silvestrini: Spreading Kindness to Kids

March 22, 2023

Marjorie brings a taste of Brazil to American children at her family child care home in Maynard, a historic town not far from Boston. “We serve Brazilian food, like rice and beans or avocado smoothies. We sing Brazilian songs and teach the children some words in Portuguese,” she explains. “The parents value the way we expand their children’s cultural horizons and make them more adventurous about trying new things.” It’s also helpful for the children to know a bit of Portuguese because Massachusetts has a large Brazilian immigrant population.

“Many people from my country don’t speak English, so they tend to stay in their community,” Marjorie says. “And they can manage to do that because there are many Brazilian restaurants, grocery stores and shops.” Still, she thinks her fellow Brazilians are missing out when they “close themselves up like this.” Marjorie took a different path when she came to the U.S. about 12 years ago after studying early education and psychology in college. She needed to learn English to qualify for a master’s degree program in Brazil, she recalls. “My original plan was to stay here for two years, improve my English and go back home to start my master’s in educational psychology. Then I met my husband through some friends and changed my plans,” Marjorie recalls.

“I was already licensed to teach children in Brazil. Still, I felt I had to learn more about American culture and home life before I could think about working in a classroom,” Marjorie says. Besides, she wasn’t yet confident about her English. “When you can’t communicate well,” she explains, “many people don’t think you are smart. And that affects the way you value yourself. As an immigrant who spoke broken English, I worried that I wasn’t good enough, that families wouldn’t approve of me and that I didn’t belong,” she explains. But she didn’t let her fears stop her from pursuing a career in ECE.

So, Marjorie eased back into the early childhood field by working for a few years as a nanny for an American family, as she recalls. “Then I took a job as an assistant teacher in a home day care. While there, I learned from another assistant about the Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™. My coworker told me you could get paid more in Massachusetts if you have a CDA®, so I went to an introductory class on the credential. When I saw what the CDA focused on, I realized it was just what I was looking for to feel confident as an early childhood teacher in this country.”

Earning the credential eased Marjorie’s concerns about what was expected of her in a U.S. classroom. “Some aspects of health and safety were different than they were in a developing country like Brazil,” Marjorie explains. But many aspects of child development were the same, as she was relieved to see. “I realized that what I had already learned about children in Brazil resonated with U.S. families. That was a big deal for me, so the CDA has a special place in my heart. It made me confident that I already knew the right things to do with young children,” Marjorie says.

This renewed sense of confidence gave her the courage to start her family child care home, Mister Sun, about four years ago. And parents seem to agree that she is teaching young learners the right way. “When I opened my day care,” she recalls, “the first person who signed up with me was a pregnant mom. Her son, Riley, started in my day care when he was three months old, and by the time he was 2 ½ years old, his mom was expecting another child. When she tried to enroll her baby in my program, I didn’t have any open spots. Still, she pleaded with me to take her daughter, even if it was only for one day a week, because she had seen how kind Riley had turned out. The mom didn’t think he would have learned to be so kind anywhere else,” Marjorie says, “and when she told me that, it touched my heart.”

Kindness counts for a lot, so “I try to be as kind and loving to the children as I can,” Marjorie says. And she believes that leaves a lasting impression on the children. ‘I don’t think they’re going to remember my name in the long run. They’re likely to forget the games we played and the songs we sang. But I do think they’ll remember that someone hugged them when they were crying, and someone kissed them when they were happy. That’s what really matters to me,” she says.

Marjorie also cares a great deal about supporting colleagues who come here from Brazil and might be facing the challenges she’s managed to overcome. After earning her CDA, she became a Professional Development Specialist because there was only one other Portuguese -speaking PD Specialist in Massachusetts. “She was my CDA instructor,” Marjorie explains, “and she urged me to apply to be a PD Specialist because we need more bilingual people to do CDA assessments in our state. And I’m glad she gave me that push because I want to serve other folks in the community from which I come.”

Many of them have questions about regulations and training, so Marjorie started a support group to help them out. “I saw the need for a group like this when I was taking my CDA classes at a community college, where I met a lot of fellow Brazilians. We started with four people and became known when people heard we were helping people with their career struggles, especially the language barrier many Portuguese-speaking teachers face.”

So, one of the things her group did was to speak up about the need for more quality trainings in Portuguese. And now the state is offering free training for Brazilians in their native language. “This is a huge step for our community,” Marjorie says, and she’s working to help it make added strides by representing family child care providers on the Mass Bay Community College Education Program Advisory Board. She participates in board meetings and discussions with educational groups, gives advice on meeting the needs of her field, advocates for needed changes in policies and regulations, and gives support to Mass Bay students.

Mass Bay Community College, along with Urban College of Boston, is taking special steps to meet the needs of the Portuguese-speaking population, Marjorie explains. “They have Portuguese-speaking teachers, all the books are in Portuguese, and students can get their associate degree entirely in Portuguese. They can even take classes for the CDA in Portuguese. But they also have to step outside of their comfort zone by taking some classes in English and they must excel in them,” Marjorie adds.

And programs like this have tremendous value for many of the people Marjorie has served as a PD Specialist over the years. “When I do assessments, CDA candidates often tell me they’d like to pursue an associate degree but they’re not sure about their English. And I always tell them, you’re more than capable, you have to try,” she says. And at least two of them have acted on this advice, Marjorie says. “They’re both working on their associate degree, and one is earning straight As.”

Marjorie has also advanced her education and she’s now working on a master’s degree. “It’s a lot of work,” she says, and she’s very busy. But she still makes time to encourage her two Brazilian assistants in their own professional growth. “They’re both earning their CDA, and they’re getting really good feedback in their classes. I’m proud of them and I’ve made a commitment to give them a bonus when they finish their coursework and another bonus when they earn their CDA.”

Both of her assistants are in their forties and starting life in a new country, Marjorie says. “That’s hard and I don’t want them to feel the self-doubt that I did when I first came to the U.S. So, I’m doing everything I can to make my assistants believe in themselves. I also want them to fulfill their dreams, even if that means leaving me and going to work in another program or opening their own day care.”

Her own dreams include expanding her day care, and she draws inspiration from a quote by Carl Jung that she read while she was studying psychology in Brazil. “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart,” Jung wrote. “Who looks outside, dreams, who looks inside, awakes”—words that are on Marjorie’s phone and guide her professional career. “You need to look outside and make plans to move ahead,” she says, “but you won’t realize what needs to be done unless you look inside. And I want to be someone who dreams and then awakes to make things happen,” Marjorie says. “I want to work on behalf of Portuguese-speaking teachers in this country. I want to help them spread the flame of kindness to kids and see that it never burns out.”


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