Three-Foot-High Schoolers – A Closer Look at WJ’s Child Development Class

Rosie Hammack, Print Feature Co-Editor

At first glance, WJ’s Child Development classroom is a blast from our childhood past – the tiny red chairs lined up against the strangely shaped tables, the neat rows of cubbies holding little multicolored Barbie- and Transformers-decorated backpacks, the art table with its buckets of crayons and the blocks and toys. But there’s more to the class than immediately meets the eye.

Separated from the play area by some shelves is the high school students’ work area, where much of the day-to-day planning takes place. It’s here that the WJ students study physical, intellectual, social and emotional development in young children, as well as brainstorm various activities for the preschoolers.

According to Child Development teacher Connie Pokress, this fusion of preschoolers and high school students offers a unique learning environment. This is largely due to the high teacher-to-pupil ratio. At any given time, there are about five or six students on the floor teaching a group of 14 preschoolers. This contrasts with most daycare centers, where, according to Pokress, the ratio is much closer to two teachers for every 18 preschoolers.

“It’s nice to have a lot of different teachers because there are always new ideas,” said sophomore child development student Kerry Zwack. “When there’s only one teacher, [the preschoolers] don’t always get new things to do.”

It seems that the course has struck a positive chord for all parties involved.

“It’s so fun!” said one five-year-old, throwing her hands up in the air. “It has a playground.”

Pokress, students and parents alike cite other reasons for their contentment with the program. Mr. Lai, a preschooler’s parent, praised the program for its one-on-one experience and for greatly strengthening his son’s conversational skills over the course of one year.

While Pokress says that the classroom is a “happy space” for her, Zwack notes the babysitting opportunities that have arisen from the class. And sophomore Natalia Barros says that Child Development has only fortified her resolve to become a teacher.

“This is a really valuable experience,” said Zwack. “I think that working with kids opens up a lot of paths in life and helps you a lot in a lot of different ways.”

Barros agrees, adding that the class is also meaningful for the preschoolers, who are learning new things every day. Pokress finds that this development is evident in the smiles on each of the preschoolers’ faces.

And preschoolers are not the only ones smiling.

“I’ve had students say that they love finishing the day with a smile on their face,” said Pokress. “It’s just a pleasant experience.”