Teen-agers go to nursery school

`Labs': Students at several county high schools take care of preschoolers in their classrooms in the Early Childhood Development program.

January 09, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At 8:45 in the morning, parents drop off their children in front of Hammond High School. A group of students waits at the door for them. Without embarrassment, the kids kiss their parents goodbye and take the hands of their teen-age teachers.

For these 3- and 4-year-olds, Hammond High is nursery school.

At five high schools in Howard County, a nursery school or day care center doubles as a "lab" for Early Childhood Development (ECD) students. The program addresses the statewide teacher shortage by allowing students to take education credits with them to Howard Community College.

At River Hill, Mount Hebron and Long Reach high schools, ECD teachers coordinate classroom time and "lab" work at professionally staffed day care centers. However, at Hammond and Howard high schools, the students run the preschool program, managing it under the guidance of their teachers. The course is offered at Glenelg High School but is not running this school year, said Keri Johnson, a teacher at Glenelg.

"It's very good leadership training for them," said Jan Thurman, who teaches Early Childhood Development at Hammond.

Students take turns leading small teams that rotate among planning lessons, observing, studying theory and working with the preschoolers.

Debbie McGuire, mother of Cristina, 3, said that after visiting Hammond's preschool, "I was confident that it was more than baby-sitting. It was actually a curriculum."

Tenth-grader Christen Hawkins said teens are good teachers because they have fun with the children. She has made strides with a preschooler who was initially shy, by spending one-on-one time with her. They do puzzles together and talk about their weekends. "It's fun how you get to play whatever you want with the kids and you don't get judged" by peers, Hawkins said.

Many students feel that the ECD class gives them a break in their school day, a chance to play and be children. But the program has a major academic component. When they are not in the "lab," students study child development theory. The preschool, which includes an observation room where high school students take notes on the children's behavior, allows them to put the theory to work.

The observation room at Howard High is a dark, closet-sized space with chairs set up behind a two-way mirror. ECD students look onto a play area that has a slide, work tables and craft supplies, watching class members interact with the young children.

Chaz Fox, a 10th-grader, fills out a "frequency chart" to mark how many times a shy child interacts with classmates. The information that Fox and his team collect will be used to write a case study for ECD II in the spring. The six- to 11-page report will examine whether the child being observed meets developmental norms.

"Because of the observation room, we can see what we're doing wrong, what we need to change," said Jackie Phelps, also a 10th-grader at Howard High.

This is discussed in class weekly, on days when preschool is not held.

ECD classes count as a "career completer" for graduation. Students who maintain a B or better in ECD classes and enroll at Howard Community College may do so with three credits earned toward an associate's degree or a transfer to a four-year college.

Thurman and other ECD teachers are on an advisory committee with the college. In monthly discussions, they assess how well the students are being trained to work with children.

"It's really relevant for the students when they know they're succeeding not just in the classroom, but in the workplace," said Thurman, who estimated that 50 percent of her students hope to work in a child-related field.

"The benefit is that students have a pathway" into the college and a career, said Fran Kroll, coordinator of teacher education and early childhood studies at the community college. "Because of this critical shortage of teachers, any students we can encourage to be in the program is a bonus."

Some students, such as Kelly DelMonico, a 10th-grader at Hammond, sign up for ECD with their minds on the future.

"I always wanted to be a teacher, and this gives us experience to see if it's really what we want to do," DelMonico said.

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