Pathway to Success: Early Education and Care Prepares Clippers for Future Careers

Pathway to Success: Early Education and Care Prepares Clippers for Future Careers
Posted on 06/04/2024
FHS students working with preschoolers

By Sarah E. Murphy

Students enrolled in Falmouth High School’s Early Education and Care Pathway aren't just learning their field of study, they’re immersed in it, imparting knowledge to local preschool children while fostering educational and emotional connections.

Led by Life Skills/Early Education and Care Teacher Lynn Campbell and Teaching Assistant Cathy Femino, the pathway is Chapter 74 approved as a fully-endorsed CVTE Program, and successful completion results in Massachusetts EEC Certification/Early Education and Care Certification (ECC). Additionally, the pathway counts towards community college credit in Massachusetts, and students also graduate with First Aid/CPR Certification.

The high-schoolers obtain critical skills while studying the physical, cognitive and social/emotional development of children, first in the classroom, then as student teachers in the preschool at FHS, which is accompanied by an age-appropriate outdoor playground on school grounds. Course requirements include two one-year classes, Child Growth and Development and Child Care Aide, followed by a one-year internship in the FHS preschool, which culminates in a graduation ceremony for the preschoolers at the end of the year.

FHS students then have the opportunity to further their knowledge by continuing in outside placements, including public elementary schools, such the district preschool at East Falmouth Elementary, or the private sector.

The ECC program is one of seven Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways available to Clippers, in addition to Business & Career Readiness; Culinary; Design and Visual Communications; Programming and Web Development; Video Production; and Woodworking Technology. Superintendent of Schools Lori Duerr is working with Alan Kazarian, Guidance Director for Grade 5-12 to add two new pathways to the FHS curriculum. Medical Assisting will be offered as an online course with internship options at the Community Health Center of Cape Cod in Mashpee. Additionally, FHS will partner with Cape Cod Community College to offer Aviation Maintenance and Technology, also through online coursework and internships.

CTE Department Head Janet Rocha emphasized the benefits of the ECC pathway.

“Students get a complete education in child development, which they’re able to apply in the both in the building at the FHS preschool, and outside in these work experiences,” she said. “The cherry on top is that they leave the school as a licensed preschool teacher, so it literally prepares them for a job upon graduation,” she said.

Lynn Campbell emphasized the interactive nature of the ECC pathway, in particular, the FHS preschool.

“It’s totally hands-on, and after the first few weeks observing Mrs. Femino and me, the students run it. I’m like a conductor of an orchestra, and they’re doing what they need to be doing at all times. They get very little direction, other than at the beginning of the week,” she said.

Mrs. Campbell teaches the foundation of reading to the preschoolers and the student teachers are responsible for conducting weekly theme lessons, which they select with input from her and Mrs. Femino. The FHS students read books, create slides, play games, and more with the preschoolers, focusing on letter and number recognition, phonics, and number correlation, all centered around the designated subject.

On a typical morning in the FHS preschool, some of the “big kids” are teaching the theme, which on this particular day is all about bees. The “little kids” are divided into small groups that engage in activities at each table led by a student teacher (with classmates who observe and assist) and present a slideshow on different aspects of the bee, such as types, roles, and contributions to the natural world. Meanwhile, their classmates are creating materials for upcoming lessons.

The subject matter is also reinforced through arts and crafts and supervised fun on the age-appropriate playground on the FHS grounds.

“We try to be as hands-on as possible. Learning through whole bodies helps children learn. We have lots of free play time incorporated into our day, and we try to get outside every day, because movement and play is where the most important learning happens at that age,” Mrs. Campbell said.

“We foster kindergarten readiness. We encourage independence and responsibility within the classroom. We make the children feel proud to be helpful and proud of their accomplishments, even if it’s just putting on their own jacket without help.”

The high-schoolers gain independent education experience, for they are each paired with a student to conduct a year-long study of motor skill and social interactions to write a case study reflecting the child’s growth.

Mrs. Campbell emphasized the mutually-beneficial relationships that are forged between the students and the student teachers.

“My favorite aspect of this program is the community within the school. Some of the preschool students are the children of FHS teachers. This means that their high school students are their child’s favorite teacher. This creates a unique relationship that wouldn’t have existed. I’ve had high school students who attended this preschool as well as co-workers and parents of preschoolers who went through the pathway as a high schooler,” Mrs. Campbell said.

“It’s those connections that make it a special place to be. The preschool children have a sense of being loved by so many “big kids.” They get lots of one-on-one time with them and lots of attention. The adult-to-child ratio can’t be beat.”

She speaks as the parent of a former FHS preschooler. Her son, Jake, attended for two years.

“It was awesome to have students in my class who were working with and teaching my son every day,” she said.

“This particular class is amazing. It’s as if I hired all 15 of these students to work here. They’re independent leaders who work really well with each other. If they see a child who needs something, three of them will pop up to help. They know what needs to be done and they do it without being told.”

Mrs. Femino’s daughters also attended the preschool. Her husband, Steve, teaches physical education at FHS, so the location was particularly convenient for their family.

“This was a wonderful program for my girls, and it’s grown so much over the years. Back then, it was only part-time,” she said.

“One of the best parts is the personal attention the big kids give to the little kids. Unfortunately, parents aren’t always able to give one-on-one time, but here the children always get it.”

Four-year-old Rory also enjoys making connections with his peers in the preschool.

“I like playing with my friends,” he said.

His classmate, Nattie, agreed.

“I like playing and sharing,” she said.

Out on the playground, Aoife offered one of the takeaways from the morning’s lesson.

“If a bee comes near you, stand like a statue. Then they won’t sting you,” she said.

FHS junior Talia Litterio enjoys the connections that are created with the preschoolers.

“I really like the relationship we build with them. I feel like I’m so different since I started working here. People say they can tell I work with kids, and I know it’s because of the work we do here. We really do learn how to teach, plan, prepare,” she said.

Michaela Waggett is considering a career as a child life specialist working in pre or post operation settings.

“I’ve gained so much experience learning about how children are, what they need, and how to know what they need. I’ve always had a passion for helping people, and I always want to be a positive influence. I’d like to help children if they’re afraid of surgery, to understand what to expect, to help ease their pain or anxiety. I want to support them and their families,” she said.

Maggie McManamon is also thinking about becoming a child life specialist in some capacity, but regardless of her plans, she believes the ECC pathway is offering her an important foundation for the future.

“Learning how to work with kids is really special. You’re going to run into kids throughout your entire life, so just knowing how to communicate and talk to them is a skill everyone needs to have,” she said.