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HILLSVILLE — Deciding on a career track is child’s play for some Carroll County High School students.
Part of the experience through early childhood educational class for juniors Leslie Grose, Tiffany Riegel and Emily Dye involved fixing a meal in a pint-sized kitchen, building with blocks and sitting on carpet with 15 4- and 5-year-old kids while listening attentively to Head Start teacher Barbara Lawson read aloud from “Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep.”
Interaction between the energetic children and the high school students resulted in smiles all around.
For the juniors, the work experience at the Head Start site at the Carroll County Education Center follows classroom studies with teacher Tilda Mullins to prepare them for the task.
The work experience here and at other locations such as Kidz World day care can benefit both groups, according to Lawson.
“Our big motto around here is we learn through play so they play with us.” she said.
Head Start children are eager to learn in the social program, their teacher explained. They soak it up like sponges.
The more attention the kids can get, the better.
Each student helper aids in giving the children more individual attention. The students help with making art, practicing for the dramatic play or reading stories.
Lawson considers her job the most wonderful in the world, and the early childhood education students already agree with her, even though they just started working at Head Start.
After nurturing family members, they have a strong inclination towards working with children.
“I love working with little kids,” Grose said. “I have a little brother, so it just kind of comes naturally.”
“When I had nephews, I knew I wanted to go into child care, ‘cause they’re a lot of fun to watch,” Riegel said.
Dye found her joy for children by helping out with her little sister since the diaper stage and she feels it at Head Start, too.
“I could have a bad day at school and I could come here and they make me laugh,” Dye said. “They just make my day a lot better.
“I love it — the kids, they run up to you and they give you hugs. I just love being around them.”
And she looks forward to finding a career at a day care center.
Riegel knows that she wants to work with children and have a job in the medical field, so she’s planning to become a pediatric nurse.
Grose wants to become a pre-kindergarten teacher, because that’s her favorite age group. She says she loves watching them learn.
The classroom study is necessary to prepare students to work with 4- and 5-year-olds. Their teacher is wonderful, Lawson said. When students come to Head Start, the work experience will offer them more insight.
“Hopefully, by being in the classroom with children every day, they can get what they can’t get from the book,” Lawson said.
High school juniors also assist at Kidz World, where director Trina Caviness enjoys cooperating with Mullins to provide work experience opportunities.
The proof is in the fact that Caviness has hired former students to work at day care, where the youth get to do everything from change diapers to teach whole lessons themselves.
“That’s the best place to find my employees,” she said. “It’s the best place to see their work ethic, when they’re not getting paid for it. If they take initiative, that’s the one you want.”
Early childhood education is just one of the 11 areas of study in career and technical programs at Carroll County High School, teacher Mullins said during Career and Technical Education Month.
“The early childhood education classes not only stress the family but also how to take care of and strengthen the care and education of children,” the teacher said.
An introductory class designed for 10th graders covers many topics — from activity planning, to budgeting for families, to safety practices with children.
Students go through child abuse training by the Virginia Department of Social Services, which includes learning about “shaken baby syndrome,” fetal alcohol syndrome. They also use a drug-affected baby simulator.
Students care for a computerized doll continuously for three days and two nights. The “baby” has to be rocked, diapered, fed and burped.
The youth also have to learn how to develop lessons for children at Kidz World to get a hands-on understanding of being a teacher.
Juniors continue their classroom work in 11th grade and add in the lab time at the sites, Mullins said. Before they can work in the community, they have to have a tuberculosis screening, take social services child abuse training for teachers and the community volunteer training.
Students will complete 60 hours of lab time.
“They get to experience a year in a life of a child — they get to see where [the children] have been and where they’re going,” Mullins said.
The senior year course will give students credit at Wytheville Community College as well as the high school, Mullins said. This can save the students’ some college tuition expense.
The seniors have to teach three or four lessons themselves and take on more projects, such as parent communication.
Mullins requires students to keep a portfolio showing their work, career plan, resume, three reference letters with a listing of their school and community activities and awards.
“The class is a strong building block for students who want to work with children in any way from nursing to teaching,” Mullins said. “It is also a great class to learn positive parenting skills for the future.”