“Go ahead and touch the worm, it won’t bite,” Eastern View High School senior Paige Hamilton said to the group of 4-year-olds.
“Ewwww,” came the response as Lilly Lacey and Zoe Stewart looked at the worm in Hamilton’s hand.
Eastern View High School’s preschool students were learning about bugs on Monday, and the faces on the nearly 20 young students said it all – “ewwww.”
The Early Childhood II course at EVHS is home to preschool students five days a week – 3-year-olds on Tuesday and Thursday and 4-year-olds Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Twenty high school students per block work with the preschoolers just like a regular teacher would – building a curriculum, teaching sanitization and giving encouragement.
“They’re the actual teachers,” Randi Richards-Lutz, Culpeper County Public School’s Director of Career and Technical Education and Technology said. “(Teacher) Laura Butcher does at the beginning of the semester, what we call ‘boot camp.’ Where she gets the teachers ready how to plan lessons.”
High school students have to be 16 to take the course, which is offered at Culpeper County Public School as well. As a prerequisite, they have to take an early childhood development course either as a freshman or sophomore.
Then, they’re placed in the Early Childhood I course where they work with the 3-year-olds. The EC II class on Monday is more hands on. Each student is assigned a high school buddy, who helps create the curriculum and serves as their teacher.
“For the high schoolers we have a curriculum set,” Butcher said. “They have to learn how to create a safe environment for the kids, so especially with EC I, they’re making sure everything is sanitized and when they play they’re safe. They’re really learning how to be in a classroom setting.”
The EC II students are working toward how to manage a classroom, create and teach the lessons.
“They love it, a lot of them say this is the reason they come to school every day,” Butcher said. “They build strong relationships. There’s some days I’m calling the high school students to help because a student won’t react to me. They’ve also built relationships with the parents. It’s just amazing to see what bonds they make.”
Each student has a different reason for loving the class, but every single one had a giant smile on their face as they counted plastic bugs, looked at earthworms and tried to find colorful creatures to help the preschoolers capture in a net.
“I have a little brother, he’s 5, and I just love little kids so much,” senior Samantha Chavez said. “Ever since I came here my freshman year, I wanted to take this class. I do plan on being a preschool teacher, so this helps.”
Having a younger sibling was beneficial, as she knew that there would be apprehension on the first day of class. Knowing how the little ones react has helped her form a closer bond with them.
“I knew how they were going to act, especially on the first day of school,” Chavez said. “For some of them it’s difficult, so you just get to warm up with them.”
She grinned widely as a little one quickly ran up and gave her a big hug before jumping off to another station filled with creepy crawlers to look at.
“It’s the best feeling,” Chavez said. “If you have a bad day, you come in here and you forget all about your problems. It’s just great having someone who makes your day happier and brighter.”
Mayra Monico wants to be a pediatrics nurse after she graduates from EVHS this year, so working with the kids in the classroom is giving her a head start.
She said being able to work with both 3 and 4-year-olds has been helpful.
“There’re both very different, the age groups,” Monico said. “The 3-year-olds have a hard time doing more difficult tasks and the 4-year-olds listen a little better.”
Monico cherishes the bonds she has with the students, witnessed when Jace Green, 5, clung to her legs.
What’s Jace’s favorite thing about preschool?
“My buddy,” he said shyly, looking up at Monico with a big grin.
“I feel working closely with the children, we grow a close relationship,” Monico said. “They express it to you either in words or a more affectionate way that’s still appropriate for a classroom. I just think it’s really sweet how they understand their gratitude toward others.”
Valerie Vargas is an only child, so working with the preschoolers gives her a totally different perspective. Wanting to be a trauma surgeon in the future, she surmises she’ll likely see someone of this age and knows that this experience will help her understand the psyche of a younger patient.
“I feel like later on in my career, I feel like it’s going to help me even though I want to be a trauma surgeon,” Vargas said.
Zoe Stewart, 5, says she loves coming to play.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Zoe said. “I like playing babies. My favorite baby’s name is Sparkles.”
And off she went, happily chasing bugs with senior Emily McCombs.