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.