Preschool taps teen power

Southern High students get class credit for helping youngsters learn

November 05, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

In a classroom at Southern High School, a boy scooped sand into a dump truck with a pink plastic shovel. Another trio of children zoomed a toy truck along a carpet printed to look like streets running through a neighborhood.

No, the students hadn't suddenly regressed a decade. These children were preschoolers who take part in a three-day-a-week program run by the school, with supervised teenagers in charge.

"This program is older than anybody can remember," said Lois Zell, the family and consumer science teacher who runs the preschool. "It dates back at least 50 years."

This year, the program is at capacity with 13 youngsters ages 3 and 4, said Zell. She noted that waiting lists are common, and parents might sign up for the preschool up to four years in advance.

The preschool, which runs from 9:05 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., costs only $60 for the school year, October through May.

Billie Trott, whose 4-year-old son, Albert, is in the program, said she was amazed by the low price, and at first thought $60 was the weekly fee.

She particularly likes the class because Albert can mingle with children his own age. With a brother who is 9 and a sister who is 18, Albert sometimes thinks he's 10, his mother said.

He's looking forward to a field trip next week to a nearby pumpkin patch and corn maze. "It just seems like it's working out," Trott said.

It's working out for the high-schoolers, too, who get credit for running the class and hands-on experience in a field they might pursue one day. The teens work in three-day rotations: one day they observe, the next they plan and the third they teach.

On a recent morning, Melissa Thompson, 16, was on teaching duty. As the youngsters sat in a semicircle around her, she went around the group, asking each child what made him or her unique.

One boy said he was tired. "That's not something special about you," said Melissa. "Can you run fast? Do you have a lot of toys?"

Another boy said he likes hot dogs. "So if I put you into a hot dog eating contest, you would win?" asked Melissa. "How many would you eat?"

The boy held up three fingers, but said "five."

That gave Melissa a teaching moment - with the help of some other youngsters, she showed him that five fingers is a whole hand. She then asked the children to say their ages and show the number with fingers.

In a room in the back, several students worked on the next day's lesson, thumbing through books from the classroom's small library. The theme was "all about me," so the students were looking for crafts, music and "circle time" activities that would fit. The students plan the lesson together and then teach together, said Anna Poole, a senior in the class.

The day's schedule always includes time for snack, cleanup, music and games, and reading and circle time. Zell supervises and guides the students as they work with the children.

During snack time, she told freshman Cara McLean to make sure the kids washed their hands before sitting down to eat. Cara then helped a young boy circle the table, distributing four crackers per child.

Midway through the morning, the class periods changed, and a new set of students took over. One was Gabrielle Pomerleau, a senior whose 3-year-old brother, Josh, is in the program.

"I definitely want to be a teacher," said Pomerleau. Now in her third year of the child development class, she helps organize the field trips and is also raising money for some new toys.

Heather McCrumb, a sophomore in her second year of the program, said the students get more responsibility each year.

"I love this class," she said. "I just like working with little kids."

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