By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
The Little Longhorns preschool offers double-duty magic: it’s a program with high school students teaching community preschoolers. Under the supervision and direction of Lennard high’s Julie Compton, the older students mentor the younger preschool students at the high school. Compton is program director of the Little Longhorns concept, which focuses on providing Early Childhood Education students with credentials and with practical hands-on experience, working with preschoolers in a nurturing, challenging environment.
Compton is the third teacher to direct the program, which was started about seven or eight years ago with Leslie Devlin at the helm. The program was initiated to meet the growing need for certified people to work in Head Start and other child care facilities in the South Shore.
About 100 Lennard high school students participate in the program, which serves up to 20 preschoolers, ages three to four. Children from the local communities attend, mainly from Ruskin and Wimauma. There is no income requirement. Some of the preschoolers are the children of teachers and staff.
Compton said, “It is a pleasure watching the students grow and work with our current preschoolers. The high school students plan, prep, and run everything.”
According to Compton, the innovative concept is part of the Hillsborough County School District’s Career and Technical Education program, which is partially funded by the district in eight other schools. She said a very small portion of the program’s funding comes from the preschoolers’ families, about $50 a preschooler per month.
Preschoolers attend Tuesday through Thursdays from 9 am to 12:30. High students enrolled in early childhood education courses completely run the preschool from start to finish. They are responsible for lesson planning, implementing, and caring and cleaning for the facility. They learn and practice skills in designing lesson plans, and in disciplinary techniques.
Compton has the system set up so that each week the roles of the high school students rotate from science and math teacher, to gross motor coordinator, to kitchen groceries and snack responsibilities, and the list of learning by doing goes on. The high school students receive training and certification for CPR and first aid through the program.
On Mondays and Fridays the high schoolers work on certification. Their dedication is evident by the fact that they must pass eight exams through the state department of Children and Families, take one online course, work with children 120 hours outside of the preschool, complete a weeklong mastery project, and maintain a professional portfolio of all of their achievements and knowledge gained.
The rigorous, supervised training does not stop there, said Compton. Once the high school students have been observed by a national specialist, they are awarded a National Child Development Associate and have nine credits towards an associates degree. The process also costs $425 per student for which a T.E.A.C.H scholarship is available. T.E.A.C.H. is an acronym for “Teach Education And Compensation Helps,” which is a scholarship program funded by the Florida Office of Early Learning. This entitles them to work for any childcare facility, public or private, as well as Head Start or anything childcare related. Many of them go on to earn their associate or bachelor degrees.
Compton added, “As a former science and Head Start teacher, there isn’t anything else in the world I’d rather do than teach and facilitate this program. Lennard is a terrific school with a terrific administration, and I’m proud to be a Longhorn.”
Compton is also an Edgenuity credit instructor and a Lennard adult instructor, so she has her hand, her head, and her heart involved with students from a wide range of ages and interests.