Review: ‘No Small Matter,’ starring Rachel Giannini, Andrew Meltzoff, Myra Jones-Taylor, Deborah Phillips, Geoffrey Canada, Matthew Melmed, and Nadine Burke Harris

June 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rachel Giannini (pictured at right) and a student in “No Small Matter” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama)

“No Small Matter”

Directed by Danny Alpert, Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel

Culture Representation: The documentary “No Small Matter,” about children’s learning abilities before kindergarten age, interviews a racially diverse group of people (white, African American, Latino and Asian) who are educators, academics and parents representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A child’s ability to learn can be hampered by poverty, abuse, and a lack of caring adults in the child’s life, and it’s become increasingly harder for middle-class parents to afford childcare for pre-school children.

Culture Audience: “No Small Matter” will appeal primarily to parents, educators and other people who are concerned about how to teach children under the age of 6.

Larry Johnson, Wahnika Johnson and their daughter Laryn in “No Small Matter” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama)

The documentary “No Small Matter” tackles two different but related topics, and handles one topic better than the other. The first topic (which is the one that’s handled better) is an exploration of children’s learning abilities from birth to the age of 5. The second topic is about the increasing struggles for non-wealthy parents in the United States to give their pre-school children the best possible education and learning experiences.

“No Small Matter” directors Danny Alpert, Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel do a very good job of balancing interviews with experts and footage of real middle-class/working-class parents and pre-school children. The documentary gives a fairly comprehensive overview of children’s learning abilities before they reach school age. The movie also advocates for better support systems for parents of pre-school children, as affordable childcare become increasingly difficult for parents who have to work outside the home.

The best scenes in the film are with childhood educator Rachel Giannini, who was working at the time at Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center in Highland Park, Illinois. Her infectious enthusiasm for teaching kids and giving them positive encouragement to be themselves in their learning process are inspiring for anyone who wants to know how a good pre-kindergarten teacher should be.

Narrated by Alfre Woodard (who is also the documentary’s executive producer), “No Small Matter” covers subject matter that a lot of people might already know. For example, it’s fairly common knowledge that babies can start learning from birth. Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, tells a story of interacting with a baby who was just 42 minutes old. He saw that when he stuck out his tongue, the baby immediately did the same, which is an indication of how quickly newborn babies can learn imitation skills.

The documentary also mentions the new technology that’s available to study babies’ brain activities. Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences co-director Patricia Kuhl declares that it’s possible to see what’s going on in a baby’s brain before the baby can talk. However, the documentary could have used a little more discussion about how devices such as smartphones and tablets can affect brain activity for pre-school children.

One of the best aspects of “No Small Matter” is that the film has an impressive and diverse list of experts who are interviewed. The academics include University of California at Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnick; Georgetown University psychology professor Deborah Phillips; Temple University psychology professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek; University of Wisconsin pediatrics professor Dipesh Navsaria; and University of Wisconsin psychology professor Seth Pollak.

There are also several leaders of children-oriented nonprofit organizations, such as Center for Youth Wellness founder/pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris; Zero to Three executive director Matthew Melmed; Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada; Child Care Aware of America executive director Lynette Fraga; National Association for the Education of Young Children CEO Rhian Allvin; ReadyNation co-founder Robert Dugger and AVANCE executive director Jessica Atlas.

One interview that seems a little out of place is with Sesame Workshop senior vice president of curriculum and content Rosemarie Truglio, because during the interview, she’s interrupted by “Sesame Street” character Cookie Monster, who does a comedic skit with her. It’s supposed to be funny, but it comes across as too staged, awkward and perhaps some kind of sponsorship deal that the filmmakers made with Sesame Workshop. If people want to watch “Sesame Street” skit, they can watch “Sesame Street.” It doesn’t need to be in this documentary during what’s supposed to be a serious interview.

Several people in the documentary say things are already well-known: There’s a direct link between poverty, lack of education and crime. People who end up in prison are more likely to be poor and uneducated (not completing a high-school education) than people who not poor and not educated. Aside from the fact that prisons are filled with poor people who can’t afford good legal representation, poor and uneducated people are less likely to get jobs that can pay a living wage, thereby increasing the possibility that they will turn to crime to make money.

It’s a vicious cycle that experts say has the greatest chance of being broken by giving poor people the education that can increase their chances to climb out of poverty. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections secretary John Wetzel says, “True criminal justice reform is investing in early childhood education.” Arthur Rudnick, a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, adds: “You won’t find a better return than investing in early childhood education.”

But the rising cost of that early education is something that’s become increasingly difficult for working-class and middle-class families. Shea Gattis is named in the documentary as an example of someone who benefited from early education as a way to prevent some of the negative lifestyle circumstances and choices that plague low-income communities. Gattis is part of the Carolina Abecedarian Project, launched in 1972, which has been tracking him for more than 40 years since his childhood. He came from a low-income community, but received early education through the project and has been thriving as a law-abiding citizen with a good career.

The documentary shows three families who are struggling with making ends meet and having affordable child care for their pre-school children.

  • A married couple in Yorktown, Virginia—special-education teacher Wahnika Johnson and systems administrator Larry Johnson—have to put their daughter Laryn in day care after Wahnika’s maternity leave ends and she has to go back to work. The movie shows that how this transition has an emotional effect on Wahnika.
  • A married couple in Henderson, Nevada—nail technician Shannon Poff and security guard Donnie Poff—work two different shifts so that one can be home to take care of their son Daymean, who was born with a heart defect. Daymean’s medical bills have put the couple heavily in debt.
  • A single mother in Waco, Texas—Maria Hernandez—uses the nonprofit AVANCE program, which provides free child care for low-income families in the area.

It’s not exactly news to report that many families struggle with being able to afford childcare. What the documentary could have explored better is how a program like AVANCE works and is able to get funding and how a program like AVANCE can be implemented in other communities who need these programs the most.

Melmed comments that the U.S. military has “the best family support system in the United States.” It’s a belief confirmed by U.S. Army first-class sergeant Keacha Simmons, a mother who is interviewed kin the film. That’s great, but considering that most families in the U.S. don’t get military benefits, “No Small Matter” could have taken a closer look at people and organizations that are doing something about the problem of making good childcare affordable to families.

People already know that teachers/educators of children are grossly underpaid in the United States. With most budgets of cities, counties and states already stretched to the limits, it seems as if the future of early childhood education has to rely more on private funding. Where are all the billionaires who can help? And if a lot of wealthy people are helping, where is the money going? No one seems to ask these questions in the documentary.

Melmed has this to say about one of the best ways to rethink childcare and to make it more fun and educational for kids: “It’s not babysitting. It’s brain building.” “No Small Matter” is a good documentary that examines the issues of problems of educating pre-school age children in the United States. However, the documentary would have been much better if it also focused on realistic and attainable solutions.

Abramorama released “No Small Matter” on digital and VOD on June 26, 2020. The movie’s DVD release date is June 30, 2020.

Westin Hotels & Resorts announces Project Rise: ThreadForward to help donate pajamas to underprivileged children

March 15, 2018

child in pajamas
(Photo courtesy of Marriott International, Inc.)

The following is a press release from Westin Hotels & Resorts:

Westin Hotels & Resorts today announced the launch of Project Rise: ThreadForward, an unprecedented sustainability program that collects, processes and reweaves hotel bed linens transforming them into thousands of pairs of children’s pajamas.  The first-of-its-kind pajamas will be distributed to children in need, whose circumstances can contribute to shortened and more fragmented sleep. Beginning April 16th, Westin will give the gift of better sleep beyond the brand’s hotels, in cities around the world: from New York and Toronto, to Mexico City and Cape Town, and will encourage guests to support by purchasing a pair of pajamas on westinstore.com to benefit the program.

“As people integrate wellness into their lifestyle more holistically on the road and at home, giving back has increasingly become important to their overall sense of well-being,” said Brian Povinelli, SVP & Global Brand Leader, Westin Hotels & Resorts.  “Wellness is in the Westin brand’s DNA, and Project Rise: Thread Forward is evidence that we can empower the well-being of our guests and associates as well as make a difference in the communities around us – hopefully inspiring change in the industry as a whole.”

Last year Westin introduced a global campaign called Let’s Rise, taking on the distractions and unpredictability of travel and empowering people to regain control of their well-being when they need it most, while traveling.  As part of the brand’s rally-cry, Westin looked to their associates for an idea to empower the communities in which they live and work. The brand launched a challenge, Project Rise, asking associates to submit those ideas through the lens of the Six Pillars of Well-being; one idea would be selected and solution funded by the brand.  More than 325 associates from around the world submitted ideas; one inspired insight encouraged the brand to repurpose discarded bed linens that often don’t have a centralized recycling process or recipient.

Committed to helping guests get a good night’s sleep since the game-changing debut of the Heavenly Bed® almost 20 years ago, Westin saw an opportunity to not only create an innovative industry-first upcycling program, but also empower sleep in an entirely new way.

“Sleep continues to be the foundation of well-being,” asserted Charles Morin, PhD, President of World Sleep Society. “But despite this, one third of all adults and a majority of children are not getting enough sleep. Research suggests that, particularly for children, creating and preserving bedtime routines lead to more restorative sleep, which in turn improves physical and emotional well-being.” The simple act of putting on pajamas as part of a bedtime routine is one way to improve a child’s quality of sleep and cement long-term sleeping habits.

As a result of these insights, Westin tapped Clean the World, a leader in global health, best known for its soap recycling programs, and Divergent Energy, who sources the innovative technologies and solutions, to develop the hospitality industry’s first system to collect, process and reweave the discarded linens into a new fabric for pajamas. In just 5 months, 50 Westin hotels around the world submitted approximately 30,000 pounds of bed linens & terry to be sorted, broken down and reweaved into new material, using industry best practices in textile manufacturing. A new and proprietary upcycling process was developed specifically for this program to ensure the new fabric met both U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations and provided the comfort sought in children’s pajamas.

“Upcycling sheets into children’s pajamas has never been done before,” said Shawn Seipler, Founder and CEO, Clean the World. “As our partnership with Westin has grown over the past eight years through the bath & soap amenity program, we were excited when Westin came to us to help bring this vision to life.  Westin’s Project Rise: ThreadForward program is a phenomenal effort to continue to improve children’s health and create a more sustainable future.”

Westin worked with San Francisco-based Venables Bell & Partners to conceive and design the pajamas, which feature the brand’s signature color palette, zest, mint and flax (grey) as well as a whimsical illustration of a child rising over a moon with a book – a nod to a better sleep empowering a better day. They will be created in sizes 2-8.

With Delivering Good and their network of community partners, Westin will begin donating the first 1500 pajamas next month to children in need, who are most prone to suffer sleep anxieties, in markets around the world.

“Our mission to fight poverty and deliver hope to people in need aligns perfectly with what Westin was aiming to achieve with Project Rise: ThreadForward,” said Lisa D. Gurwitch, CEO & President, Delivering Good. “We know that pajamas are among the most requested items of clothing sought by our charitable partners that support low-income households; and we are delighted to work with Westin, who shares our passion and commitment to lift communities and empower people to be their best selves.”

As the global demand for well-being continues to grow and more people integrate wellness into their lifestyle, a new trend has emerged. Increasingly people consider giving back as an important part of their wellness routine, along with sleeping more, eating well and exercising.

In a recent global study:

  • 77% of global respondents say giving back enhances their overall well-being
  • Nearly 1 in 2 respondents in North America said it is very important to give back
  • 80% of those surveyed globally have intentions to give back while traveling in the next 12 months
  • And while nearly 1 in 4 travelers surveyed have volunteered through their hotel, 89% of people globally are more likely to book a hotel that provides give-back opportunities.

In response, Westin has made it possible for guests to support Project Rise: ThreadForward as well. Beginning on April 16th, the children’s pajamas will be retailed for USD $25.00 at Westinstore.com, and a portion of proceeds will go back to Delivering Good and continuing to support the efforts to give every child the opportunity to Sleep Well.

With its powerful penchant to give back, Westin continues to grow and evolve its programs and partnerships, addressing how wellness is integrated into consumers’ lives through the brand’s Six Pillars of Well-Being: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well, and Play Well. For more information about the Westin brand’s campaign: Let’s Rise, its commitment to sleep or to learn more about Project Rise: ThreadForward, please visit: www.westin.com/threadforward.

Study Methodology
This study is based on a survey conducted by STUDYLOGIC LLC via telephone of approximately 2,520 respondents ages 18 and older with household incomes of $50,000 or above from 4 different regions: North America, Latin America, Europe and AOA (Asia, Oceana and Africa). Interviews were conducted between January 24th and January 31st. The survey averaged 20 minutes in length and contains a margin of error of +/-3%.

About Westin Hotels & Resorts
Westin Hotels & Resorts, a leader in wellness and hospitality for more than a decade, empowers guests, associates and local communities to embrace well-being and be their best selves through the brand’s six pillars of Well-Being: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well, and Play Well.  At more than 200 hotels and resorts in nearly 40 countries and territories, guests can experience wellness offerings that include the iconic Heavenly Bed, RunWESTIN program, TRX and Peloton fitness equipment and Westin Gear Lending with New Balance, in addition to delicious and nutritious SuperFoodsRx™ and more.  To learn more, visit www.westin.com. Stay connected to Westin: @westin on Twitter and Instagram and facebook.com/Westin.

About World Sleep Society
World Sleep Day is organized by World Sleep Society, an international association whose mission is to advance sleep health worldwide. World Sleep Society promotes and encourages education, research and patient care, particularly in those parts of the world where the practice of sleep medicine is less developed. World Sleep Society currently represents over 900 individual healthcare providers and 31 regional sleep societies, totaling over 14,000 members. Learn more at WorldSleepSociety.org and WorldSleepDay.org. Find us on Twitter @_WorldSleep and facebook.com/WASMF.

About Clean the World
Clean the World is a social enterprise dedicated to the mission of saving millions of lives around the world while simultaneously diverting hotel waste from landfills. Clean the World operates soap recycling centers in Orlando, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and Punta Cana and leads a “Global Hygiene Revolution” to distribute recycled soap and hygiene products from more than 5,000 hotel and resort partners. The organization benefits children and families in countries with a high pre-adolescent death rate due to acute respiratory infection (pneumonia) and diarrheal diseases (cholera) – which are two of the top killers of children under the age of five. Since 2009, more than 44 million bars of Clean the World soap have been distributed in over 127 countries. Clean the World has served over 10 million individuals through its soap distribution and hygiene education programs. In addition, Clean the World provides hygiene kits to relief organizations throughout North America. More information: CleanTheWorld.org.

About Delivering Good
Delivering Good is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization, with a mission to provide new merchandise to people who have been affected by poverty and tragedy. It is the charity of choice for new product donations made by hundreds of companies in the fashion, home and children’s industries. Donations include new clothing, books, shoes, toys, baby products, and other items for children and adults, and make certain that every needy recipient receives the fundamentals necessary for success. More information is online at Delivering-Good.org, and @DeliveringGood on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.