by Maya Goldberger, Molly Johnson and Feiya Wang, Features Reporter, Features Editor, Features Reporter
photo by Noah Huckman
One day when leaving school, junior and Early Childhood Education (ECE) II student Avi Kuperman walked past the playground near the baseball fields. One of the preschoolers playing there saw her and ran up to the fence, begging her to play.
He started chanting her name, and soon his whole class had come to the fence saying, “Avi! Avi! Avi!” Just walking past the playground, Kuperman is reminded of her love for connecting with the preschoolers.
Whether running on the playground, building block towers on the rug or playing with toys at the sensory table, high school students who intern at the South preschool get the chance to relive their childhood days while learning the responsibilities of taking care of young children.
The South preschool, located in the 1100s, was opened in 1961 to allow high school students to gain experience in a youth learning environment through electives and internships.
Preschool Assistant Director Nicole Maloney, who also teaches the elective Early Childhood Education, said the preschoolers love their time with high school students.
“[High school students] are this magical in between where they’re not a teacher, they’re not authoritative at all, but they’re also not preschool kids,” she said. “They know how to play, they know how to negotiate and they know how to treat each other, whereas other preschoolers are just learning that.”
The preschool’s unique learning opportunities drew senior Yuval Ailon to work at the preschool three times a week before school.
“In the class you learn about all sorts of teaching techniques, and then you also get to be in preschool and apply everything that you learned,” he said. “I also thought it would be a fun change of pace from other classes.”
One of the best parts of working with preschoolers for senior Maya Shavelsky is watching them grow.
“I just love helping them build up their self esteem, proving to themselves that they can do things,” she said.
Shavelsky said she first joined the preschool in ninth grade because she loves working with children. Her time majoring in the preschool, which will grant her a state early education and care assistant teacher license, has created a path for her future, she said.
“I came into [the preschool] thinking I wanted to be a teacher. Now, I definitely know I want to be a teacher, and I’m majoring in education and psychology next year,” she said.
There are five different preschool courses offered to South students: Child Development (CD), ECE I and II, a minors course and a majors course. While CD and ECE students take classes during designated blocks, minors and majors spend time in the preschool before school and during free blocks. All courses have set time in the preschool except for CD, which is a prerequisite.
This year as majors, Shavelsky and senior Sunny Tian will each spend a total of 150 hours in the preschool creating lesson plans and helping in the classes.
Always having a toolbox on hand of flexible and creative ways to support each preschooler individually is one of the challenges of working with preschoolers, Shavelsky said.
“It’s hard because each kid is so different, so meeting each kid’s needs can sometimes be challenging because they all need different things,” she said.
Tian said she appreciates how her psychology and neurobiology classes bring a scientific perspective to her time in the preschool.
“These three courses connect really well together because you can see what you’re learning in psychology and with the development of the brain in neuro and apply it to the kids, and it’ll help you understand their actions and what they do in the preschool,” she said.
While preschoolers learn motor, social and emotional skills from high school students, Tian said the relationship is reciprocal. She said that she, as a high school student, has learned patience and seen diversity of thought when working with young children.
“I’ve realized that I’ve learned to meet the needs of different kids, especially at an early age. The kids have different needs and different requirements that they need for them to be successful,” she said.
One aspect of teaching preschoolers is helping them understand new perspectives. Ailon said that while the children can sometimes have a hard time listening, he has learned how to expand their understanding.
“Usually I do cause and effect. I’m like, ‘Okay, I see that you want to take off your snow shoes right now, but then your normal shoes are going to get really cold.’ Giving them a reason rather than just saying ‘No, you can’t do this because I said so’ usually makes them a little more receptive,” he said.
Other than classwork and the occasional challenge with preschoolers, high school students like Ailon said that the preschool is fun and relaxing. More than a necessary break from the stresses of school, the preschool transports high schoolers back to days of play, Maloney said.
“[Students aren’t] worrying about their math test that they have next block, and they’re not worrying about some fight they got in with their friend. They’re able to really focus here and just be with the kids,” she said. “Research shows that young children learn through play, but everybody needs some form of play in their lives. It’s nice that our high school kids are able to have that in their day as well.”