College and preschool students learn from each other

Hesston College sophomore Deb Yoder works with preschoolers in the Hesston College Lab Preschool. The preschool serves as a learning environment for both preschool children and for the college students who work with them.

There is rarely a lack of energy in the Hesston College Lab Preschool and a recent week learning about the importance of recycling was no exception. The preschoolers spent the week creating their own books, sorting recyclable items into the correct bins and creating 3-D art by gluing together recyclable materials.

The only difference was the lead teacher for the week was actually a student.

“I love working with the kids and applying what I learn in my classes to the preschool classroom,” said Hesston College sophomore Deb Yoder.

Yoder, of Apple Creek, Ohio, recently coordinated the entire week of preschool as part of her semester of field experience as an Early Childhood Education major. The week was structured to teach the reduce, reuse, recycle concept, and Yoder organized stories, songs, art projects and other activities for active learning.

A year of voluntary service with Mennonite Mission Network’s Service Adventure program between her senior year of high school and starting at Hesston helped Yoder discover her passion for teaching young children as she worked with at-risk children in a non-profit preschool in Raleigh, N.C.

Her experiences at Hesston have been a step toward aspirations of working with children and families.

“Being able to work directly with children through Hesston’s program has given me a lot of knowledge to back up how I interact with them, and made me more intentional in those interactions,” said Yoder.

For almost 40 years, the lab preschool has been an integral part of the Early Childhood Education curriculum. College students and pre-kindergarten children learn together and from each other.

Hesston College faculty member Tami Keim serves as director of the Early Childhood Education program, a role she has held since 1987. Keim’s main focus is guiding the students’ learning in the college classroom, teaching child development and educational principles and philosophies for working with young children.

Larisa Lawrence, a 1993 graduate of the program, is a Hesston College faculty member and serves as lead teacher in the preschool. Lawrence’s main focus is teaching the children, but as college students are incorporated into the teaching process and day-to-day operations of the preschool, she educates them as well.

As Yoder has progressed through the program over the last two years, her responsibilities in the preschool have increased. Students begin the program with observation – taking note of Lawrence’s interactions with the children, behaviors and how children respond to different teaching methods. They move on to planning one small or large group activity each week, help process weekly lesson plans and finally, as sophomores, function as an integral part of the planning and teaching team during their field experience.

The program reaches across a variety of college majors as well. Some students use their two-year degree to join the professionals working in child care programs or private preschools. Others transfer into teacher education or social science programs at four-year institutions. Hesston’s program gives students a chance to explore their interest in working with children.

“The preschool is a unique element of Hesston’s program,” said Keim. “Students are able to develop their personal education philosophies as they work with the children. They also gain practical experience, which helps them learn more effectively. The preschool allows the students to make a direct connection between learning in class and preschool experiences.”

Aside from the benefits for the college students, the preschool is a mutually beneficial arrangement with the community, giving local families an option for private education. Just like the Hesston College students, children in the preschool benefit by receiving personal attention from their teachers.

“The preschool promotes a strong social, emotional and educational opportunity for our kids,” said Megan White of Hesston, whose son, Will, is enrolled at the preschool. “The passion and involvement of Hesston College students studying Early Childhood Education brings a valuable dynamic to both generations.”

Someday Yoder hopes to own and operate her own preschool, but until then she plans to continue using her Hesston experience working in preschool or child care settings.

“The guidance and constructive criticism I have received from Tami and Larisa has been invaluable,” she said. “I love seeing the obvious connections kids make in their learning. Seeing them figure something out for themselves is very rewarding.”

For families interested in enrolling their children in the Hesston College Lab Preschool for the 2011-12 year beginning in September, or for more information, contact Larisa Lawrence at 620-327-8161.

Located 30 miles north of Wichita, Hesston College is the two-year liberal arts college of Mennonite Church USA.