Tonawanda News

October 26, 2013

Preschool practice

Kenton BOCES program offers learning for younger, older students

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Three days a week, the children who arrive at the Erie 1 BOCES Kenton Career & Technical Center preschool learn a little bit more: About their ABCs, about the seasons, about colors and shapes and getting along. 

What they might not realize is that they’re teaching, too.

The preschool site at the center in the Town of Tonawanda also serves as a learning lab for high school seniors from local districts who plan to go into careers that involve children, said Ellen McKay, Early Childhood Education program instructor at the center. 

”Some want to be teachers, in a classroom setting. She wants to be a pediatrician,” McKay said one morning at the preschool, pointing to one student. “I have another one who wants to be a pediatric nurse. But they all want time working with kids to see if they connect with them. So they come to us.

”It’s a great experience for them to really see what it’s like out in a classroom experience.”

High school juniors in the program also get hands-on experience, including running a play group, but it’s the seniors who coordinate the preschool, planning lessons and each taking a week’s turn in serving as director. This year, McKay said, there are about 12 seniors, each from Kenmore East or West high schools or Tonawanda High School, with about six working in the preschool at any given time. (They also serve an internship out in the field.)

A handful of days into the free program, the center is still seeking children for the sessions. There are currently 10 students, although up to 20 can be accommodated, McKay said. The children, ages 3 and 4 years old, are there from 7:45 to 9:45 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the seniors having classwork with McKay on Mondays and Fridays. The preschool runs from October through May. 

On Wednesday, the fourth day of this year’s class, students both younger and older gathered in the area of the classroom dedicated to the preschool, with its brightly colored carpet decorated with letters and numbers, bin of blocks and toys, small tables with colored chairs, easels and cubbies with small coats and small backpacks.

Tonawanda High School senior Taylor DiRosa, who is coordinating the program this week, directed circle time as students talked about how they felt today (sad, happy, excited, tired, confused or silly — there were a lot of happys), sang a song about autumn leaves and played a game before dividing into small groups for craft activities.

DiRosa, who said she’s wanted to be an elementary-school teacher since she was 5, said she’s already learned a lot about dealing with the younger age group.

”You need a lot of patience,” she said. “It’s important, especially when they can’t communicate very well with you. You have to have a lot of patience, especially with this age group.”

Alexis Groves, a senior at Kenmore East High School who plans to be a pediatric nurse, said the experience has taught her quite a bit already.

”It’s definitely not easy, but it’s rewarding when you do it right,” she said.

Tracy Szafranek, an employee at the center whose son Tylor is one of the younger students in the class, said it’s rewarding for both sides.

”I have been so impressed with how the students are doing,” she said. “These are some of their first experiences with little ones. They have been so professional and helpful, in helping him adjust and me adjust. It’s so exciting to see what he’s experiencing.”

McKay said that the experience serves to illustrate many of the lessons the high school students are learning in the classroom, such as stages of childhood development and the reality of preschooler attention spans. But more importantly, it illustrates that sometimes they just have to deal with the unexpected.

”You never know what’s going to happen with children. You can’t prepare them for all the things that can happen,” she said. “This is the part that prepares them for what it really is as opposed to what we tell them it’s going to be. ... There’s nothing like experience.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION The Erie 1 BOCES Kenton Career & Technical Center still has openings in its preschool program for children 3 and 4 years old. The program is free and held from 7:45 to 9:45 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. For more information, call 961-4010.