Instead of algebra, students learn to count to 10. Coloring books replace art history texts, and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” is swapped for Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
The vocational preschool class at the high school for students 2 to 5 years old is taught by Ida Lange and her husband, David.
The program, affectionately known as “Little Scorps Preschool,” provides a structured learning environment for the preschoolers and gives high school students real-world experience with young children in a classroom setting.
“A typical day is one of excitement and learning, for both the little children and the big kids,” said Ida Lange, who met her husband through the child care department at the YMCA in Oxnard about 15 years ago. “I call our program a structured play program, where kids are being themselves and learning through exploration and through enjoyable experiences.”
High school students write the preschool curriculum.
“The students run a whole program, and each of them has to be a teacher for the day two to four times a year,” David Lange said. “The high schoolers get hands-on experience, which they can translate into the real world. They also get to determine whether they enjoy working with kids or whether they thought they did until they really had to do it, because it’s a lot different than babysitting.”
ACHS senior Delaney Lancaster is working on a lesson plan involving lions and tigers in keeping with the preschool’s jungle theme this semester. She will read the students a book about a lion named Leo and teach them to make lion hand puppets from paper bags and construction paper.
“The most challenging thing is keeping their attention span because you have to get them focused on one thing,” Delaney said. “I learn about my patience level and how to deal with certain situations, which makes me more well-rounded and flexible.”
Marissa Putnam, a 16-year-old junior, plans to study child care in college and possibly pursue a career in teaching or day care.
“I’ve always wondered if working with kids is what I want to do as a career, so (the class) was kind of like just exploring that,” Marissa said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it because you create relationships with the kids. . . . If you compare their skills at the beginning of the year, so many of them have improved so much on their own, and you feel proud of them.”
There are 22 preschoolers enrolled in the program, which costs parents $150 per semester. A semester runs 10 weeks.
High school students taking the elective class are required to take the preschool class in tandem with a preparatory child development class also taught by the Langes.
“As a teacher you train them first in the proper way to work with the little kids before they get there through the child development class,” David Lange said. “After that, you kind of let them go and just supervise, and the hard part is to not to get involved unless it’s a safety issue. Then on Fridays we get back together, discuss the week, address any problems, reteach anything, talk about techniques that work, techniques that didn’t work.”
Some students earn college credit for taking the class while others may use the experience to jump into a career right after high school.
“The class trains them to work as an aide at any head start program or any preschool program,” David Lange said. “Towards the end of the year, we’ll go into building resumes and portfolios, which they could take to interviews.”
Ida Lange said whether students plan a career in child care or not, the class is an invaluable learning experience—both for the youngsters and the teens.
“I hope (students) see what it is like to work with children, even if they do not want to have a career with children,” she said. “Most likely they will be parents one day, and I hope they have some tips and strategies they can one day use. Children must be understood; they must be interactive and must be appreciated, and my students have to learn how to do all this in the preschool class.”