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South Jordan Journal

Miners take lead in teaching Mini-Miner preschoolers, exploring teaching as future career

Mar 10, 2021 12:12PM ● By Julie Slama

On crazy hair day, a Mini-Miner shows off his magnetic wand, one of several activities high school students teach to preschoolers as part of their lesson plans. (Photo courtesy of Bingham High School.)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

When Alyssa Jones transferred to Bingham High as a sophomore, she enrolled to teach the Mini-Miners preschool.

“I want to become a teacher so that is an amazing opportunity to teach and use the skills I’ve learned and need for my career in elementary education,” said the now senior high school student. “I’ve been able to get hands-on, easy-to-follow experience and learn the basics of what I need to teach and develop an understanding of how children grow and behave at certain ages.”

Jones and her classmates, who are all juniors and seniors, take child development or early childhood education I prior to becoming preschool teachers. Once in the preschool class, they use the knowledge from those courses to develop lesson plans and activities for the preschoolers.

“The first time I taught, I was so nervous, but our teacher, Mrs. [Janae] Dunn, said that the preschoolers don’t care if we’re perfect or if we mess up and to just try our best,” she said. “I did mess up, and she was right: nobody cared, and we went on learning our letters and singing songs. Because of this experience, I’ve learned to become a better person. It’s taught me a lot about myself standing in front of others and teaching. I’ve learned patience and understanding and becoming the best person I can be.”

Jones now is on her way to earning her childhood development associate’s degree, the first student who will have earned the distinction as a high school student since Dunn began teaching at the school seven years ago. 

To become CDA-certified, Jones has prepared lesson plans and materials as well as independently researching education topics to compile into an extensive portfolio; she has to be CPR certified and has her food handler’s permit; she has worked in a childhood lab setting 480 hours (including about 120 at Bingham High’s preschool); she has been observed teaching and leading activities by a state professional development specialist; and she will have to pass a 65-question exam before June. 

“This will lead me to better job opportunities and becoming the person I want to become: a teacher,” she said, adding that she does plan to attend college to study elementary education upon her graduation. She ultimately has a goal of earning a doctorate in education. 

Dunn said that the class caters to high school students who want to enter the education field so they’re gaining experience now.

“My high-schoolers are the teachers, so we just switch who’s the lead teacher every day,” she said. “Everyone has an assignment so they’re doing something different, planning the lessons and all the activities.”

The preschoolers, who must be potty-trained and 4 years old by Sept. 1, usually come two days per week. The preschool class, which typically has registration open by March, usually fills by summer, Dunn said.

On Fridays, without preschoolers, high school students focus on lesson planning and going through curriculum with Dunn.

“The rest of the week, we’re in the preschool lab running their preschool, and they’re getting that hands-on experience of how to be a teacher, how to let them plan, how to manage a classroom, and they are learning all those different tools,” she said. “It’s so awesome watching these high schoolers as they come in at the beginning of the year timid, and by the end of the year, they’re right on top of it, they know exactly what they need to do, and they take such ownership of the class.”

Every day, preschoolers learn a letter and number along with a poem or story that helps them remember the sound. For example, preschoolers may have a space theme and learn the number 7, so high school students will share a story about the moon and space that ties in with the number. Preschoolers may make their own moon rocks or create their own astronaut masks to tie to the theme. 

Themes have ranged from water and ice to jungle animals or dinosaurs and the activities extends to art, science, literacy and math. High school students adapt the lessons to fit each individual preschooler’s ability. Then afterward, the high school students will reflect how the lesson went and note if they had to make any modifications.

This year’s preschool looks a bit different to ensure students follow the COVID-19 safety and health guidelines.

“We only have 10 of the community kids and 10 high schoolers in each class (where other years the numbers may fluctuate),” Dunn said. “This year, we’re 1-to-1 ratio with the littles, as the CDC says we can only have 20 people in a room at one time.” 

Normally, the room has multiple stations from a large carpet area where high school students lead beginning activities and storytime to hands-on stations for science, math and language arts. This year, at some of those stations, such as the listening station, dolls and bean bag chairs were removed because of COVID-19.

“We have our selected activities, then we just sanitize,” she said. “My classroom has never been so clean. Anything they touch, we have to sanitize. We’re very selective what’s out like in the dramatic play area (play kitchen). We just stick what they touch in the dishwasher and wash it. We pull it back out the next day. The high-schoolers are really good at collecting what’s been touched, and we have a bin that it all goes into, and we sanitize and clean. We have bottles of sanitizer so before the kids can start at the table, they sanitize their hands. When we come in from the playground, we wash our hands. We do snack, we wash hands. It’s just become a lot more extensive this year.” 

Still the preschoolers have fun, Dunn said. 

Typically, preschoolers have a visit from a firefighter or police officer, a magician may perform, they go on a leprechaun hunt around Bingham High wearing leprechaun glasses and have a visit from good ol’ St. Nick, who brings each preschooler a Mini-Miner sweatshirt. 

Jones liked trick-or-treating in classrooms around Bingham High with preschoolers who were dressed up as a ladybug, bumblebee, Elsa, The Hulk, transformers and other creative costumes. Jones, herself, was Betty Boop.

“They are just so cute,” Jones said. “It made my heart melt.”

Dunn said it’s a rewarding experience. 

“I watch these kids grow and progress and become confident in what they are doing,” she said. “Not only do you see the preschoolers grow, but it’s awesome watching the high-schoolers grow and also become more confident. They just excel at working with these kids every day.”