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UT pilot puts younger children’s pre-kindergarten class in high school

UT pilot puts younger children’s pre-kindergarten class in high school

By: The Associated Press

The Messenger 02.01.08

By LOLA ALAPO
The Knoxville News Sentinel
KNOXVILLE (AP) — On a recent Monday morning, a 3-year-old boy in a dog costume attempted to toast plastic strawberries in a play kitchen area of his preschool.
A few feet away, another student strung an alphabet necklace.
And in the corner, three pupils surrounded teacher Katie Bargreen. They shone flashlights through colored plastic paddles. As the light reflected off each other’s teeth, they named the colors: Blue. Green. Red. Purple.
This is no ordinary pre-kindergarten class. It’s a learning laboratory that simultaneously provides earlier education to 3-year-old pupils from low-income families, gives University of Tennessee graduate students hands-on experience and allows high school students to gain job skills.
And it’s based on the grounds of Knox County’s South-Doyle High School.
“What I like about this is (the students) are doing hands-on learning and exploring their world,” said Honey Smith, mother of twin boys, Ian and MacKinley, who attend the class. “Children are learning, but they don’t realize they’re learning because it’s fun.”
Or as her son MacKinley said: “I like to color and I like looking at pictures of what we do. Those are my favorite stuff.”
The free pilot program, which began in November, is a partnership between UT Early Learning Center, Knox County Schools and the Cornerstone Foundation. It is one of four UT preschool programs but the only one based off site.
UT’s program is different from Gov. Phil Bredesen’s pre-kindergarten initiative in that it targets children earlier — at 3 instead of 4 years old.
The nine pupils, because of their socio-economic status, will automatically be eligible for the governor’s program next school year. That means they would enter kindergarten with two years of education.
Officials will track the children during their first few years of schooling.
“We plan to use this location as a research site to help us determine if two years is better than one year as far as early education,” said Sean Durham, director of the UT Early Learning Program.
Bargreen, the teacher, is a graduate student in child and family studies.
Officials considered high schools in areas with a high concentration of low-income students when discussing where to place the preschool. They initially wanted Austin-East Performing Arts and Sciences Magnet High School, said Bob Rider, dean of UT’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Because Austin-East will undergo restructuring as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, they opted for South-Doyle, he said.
The preschool is in a portable building with two classrooms — one for the 3-year-olds and the other for South-Doyle students taking Ruth Neubert’s early childhood education careers class. They can then walk a few feet to put their lessons into practice.
Having that opportunity helps students to decide whether they want a future in childhood education, said senior Angelina Trumpore, 17.
“It gives us chances to see what we can do with kids and how we can be around them,” said Angelina, who wants to be an elementary school teacher. “With little kids, whenever they do something they shouldn’t do, instead of saying ‘no,’ we can redirect them in a different area.
“We learn different ways besides strict discipline,” she said. “It really works. I was surprised.”
During a recent Monday visit, the youngsters seemed eager to enter the classroom, judging from quick kisses and hugs to their parents and their scurries to different play stations.
“She doesn’t want to miss it,” said Jacqueline Engle, mother of 3-year-old Sharese, about her daughter’s class. “Every weekend, she asks, ‘Do I get to go to school today?’ She can’t wait.”
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Information from: The Knox-ville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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