Balancing a demanding academic course load is not always easy. One of the many elective programs Lakes offers is geared toward students interested in early childhood education. Our Career and Technical Education Department offers two courses in this program, Intro to Preschool and Advanced Preschool, which provide high school students with hands-on experiences in teaching. Some students have found that an occasional game of Duck, Duck, Goose or reading with preschoolers is the perfect way to break up the daily grind and get real world experience in the process. 

Rather than learning about these concepts in theory, students in this program are tasked with teaching fundamental skills such as math, writing, and science to preschoolers. CTE department chair Ms. Jenny Harrington, who has been teaching the course for 10 years, begins each semester with 5 to 6 weeks of planning and instruction. The students learn everything from adolescent psychology and styles of learning to effective lesson planning. After this introductory period, a group of 20 children comes to Lakes every morning for “Little Eagles Preschool.” 

The advanced class also has hands-on experience and field observations that are part of the weekly curriculum. Mondays are dedicated to collaboration and lesson planning. High school students create a schedule and rotations for the preschoolers, who come on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. 

One standout student in the program is senior Katie May, who began this program as a Sophomore. "Once the preschoolers come, it's all hands-on learning. Every Friday we go to Martin Elementary to watch and help teachers at the grade school," May said.

Ms. Harrington collaborates with Martin staff  in order to make sure students get a real-world perspective on teaching. May has learned many skills from these observations, like how to practice direct communication and use her voice to manage a group of children. "[The Martin Elementary teachers] are very direct, not in a bad way. If they're not listening, they're like, 'Turn and face the right way.'" High school students will also bring back ideas for lessons and activities as well.

Katie's journey in early childhood education program started during her sophomore year with the Intro class. "Ms. Harrington made it very encouraging, and I really liked working with kids." Ms. Harrington praised May’s growth and development, saying, "She's doing really, really well with her lessons. She is realizing what works with kids, what doesn't work, how to plan for those types of lessons. [Katie] also helped plan the field trip we took the preschoolers on.”

Earlier this month, Ms. Harrington also took her students to join 1000 other high school students at an early educators conference at Illinois State University. There were sessions on scholarships for future educators, finances, a college campus tour, and an alumni panel.

For those considering joining either of the preschool classes, May has some words of  encouragement: "It's very fun. Everyone's very friendly. Ms. Harrington is super nice…The kids will call you their best friend; you get really close with them. It's nice working with preschoolers because you get to teach them new things. You get to see them grow and learn."

As the preschool classes continue to thrive, they remain a great option for high school students interested in exploring early childhood education. For those seeking a fresh experience, our preschool program provides a stepping stone toward a career in education.