Preschool at Lansdowne High

Eli Lawrence, 3, watches a thermometer in a cup of hot water during a learning activity about hot and cold at the Lansdowne High School Child Development Lab. Lisa Cave, a senior at the school, helps with the activity. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / March 5, 2013)

Playing with building blocks and counting are not typical activities for high school students.

But they have been for some Lansdowne High School since last week.

Since Feb. 25, students in Lansdowne High's Health and Human Services Academy have been working with preschoolers as part of the school's child development program.

Beginning as sophomores, Lansdowne students taking Child Development I and II classes create lesson plans and teach children at a student-run preschool located in the school.


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Currently, there are seven preschoolers enrolled in the daily program, which operates from 8:40 a.m. to noon. Cost of the program is $25, and parents must supply transportation.

Wendy Happel, the child development teacher at Lansdowne High, said that while she is there to assist and supervise, the students are responsible for planning and teaching.

"I give them the subject area and skill, and they have to come up with the materials and the lesson," said Happel, who has run the program for 10 years.

She said this responsibility can prove challenging at first for the students, whose only experience with teaching has been on the receiving end.

"It's difficult for them," said Happel, a family and consumer science teacher at the school. "They're not used to it, they're used to babysitting. They're not used to being in the teacher role."

However, the practice gives them an advantage should they decide to pursue a career in education, Happel said.

"Not only have they gotten some of the academic experiences, but they've also learned how to settle down and what they need to do. It makes me feel good to know that that's happening," Happel said.

The program also provides benefits to the preschoolers, typically 3- and 4-year-olds who live in the area.

They are learning valuable skill sets in a school environment that prepare them for elementary school.

"For the preschoolers, my goal is for them to learn a lot of social skills, (like) sharing," Happel said.

"Learning that a school environment or other environments have different rules (then at home) and all the learning is secondary to that," she said.

The high school students learn and assume the responsibilities of their teacher's role shortly before the preschoolers arrive.

"They need to learn how to teach them, how to observe, they need to learn all of these things in two months," Happel said.

Role reversal for students

Regardless of pressure, most students enjoy the chance to put their learned skills to use.

"When I came into the classroom, I said, 'Wow, this is awesome.' Because you actually get to physically talk to the kids and teach them stuff," said Lansdowne senior Roselee Perrigan.

"You learn from them and how they act. It's very interesting," said the 17-year-old.

Perrigan, an Arbutus resident, is in the Child Development II class.

She said she loves teaching the preschool students because it adds real-life experience to the things she learns in the classroom.

"You see how their development changes," Perrigan said. "You see how they can start talking better, how they start making eye contact with you, how they physically react with you."

Perrigan said she is considering a career in elementary education because she finds teaching rewarding.

"Here, when you're teaching them, and they're laughing and they're having fun while you're teaching them, and you can tell they're learning by how they react ... it's just, it's awesome," Perrigan said.

Classmate Lisa Cave serves as a student intern for Happel during the preschool program, having already completed both child development classes. She said she plans to use what she's learned to pursue a career in either elementary education or owning her own day care business.

The Lansdowne resident, said her skills have grown over the years, and she now feels confident in her teaching abilities.

"I'm probably more confident in my lessons," she said. "I know how the children act. I know how the lessons are supposed to be, so I know how to piece them together and think of ideas."

Cave, 17, said that seeing a breakthrough with a student who may have been struggling before is the most rewarding part of teaching.

She recalled how one student was extremely shy and had trouble adjusting to coming to school each day.

"He would always burst out crying whenever his mom left," Cave said.

"One morning, I had to take him after he was crying. We got to talking ... (and I) got him calm," she said.

"He actually participated in a lesson. He laughed. He talked. And from then on, every time he'd see me, he'd start trying to start up a laugh, make a joke. It was really cute," she said.

About 90 students in three Child Development I classes and one Child Development II class share the responsibility of creating the daily lesson plans, Happel said.

Each class is divided into groups where one group teaches, one group observes and one group works on lesson plans each week.

By participating in the program, high school students can, "obtain their 90-hour daycare certificate, fulfill six articulated credits with the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), and/or acquire additional community service credits toward their graduation requirement," according to a county press release.

The spring preschool session, which began Feb. 25, will run Mondays through Thursdays until May 9.

Interested parents can pick up registration packets from Lansdowne High School for the fall session during regular school hours.