Many students come to school to learn. However, CCHS students in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program come to teach.
CCHS has an early learning lab located on its campus called The Littlest Cowboys Preschool. Here, students involved in the ECE program work with and teach young children ages 3 to 5.
“I like to go outside and play on the bikes,” 5-year-old Littlest Cowboys student Noah Abe said. “[I learn] numbers and ABCs.”
The preschool includes students from the Cooper City community, many of which are related to CCHS staff and students.
“I chose the Littlest Cowboys [for my son] because I felt like it was nice to have my child at the same location as my work,” Littlest Cowboys parent and CCHS math teacher Mimi Abe said. “I felt that the high school students’ interactions with my child would encourage deeper social interactions with people and [help him] learn to build relationships with people of all ages.”
“To do this outside the high school level is very costly, so it is a gift to have a seat in this program that is all paid for from mostly the county.”
The children in the preschool learn based on the standards that are implemented in their lessons. This includes basic concepts such as letters, letter sounds, numbers, patterns, shapes and colors.
“I play in the playground,” 4-year-old Littlest Cowboys student Gina Nixon said. “I don’t get an uh-oh. I learn flowers, butterflies, everything!”
ECE is a career-technical elective that students can take in order to receive their Florida Early Childhood Professional Certificate (ECPC) and their national Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential. With a CDA, students are able to teach in a preschool immediately after high school.
The program is designed for prospective early childhood educators or individuals who would like to pursue a career involving children and works to prepare them for their future. The ECE program at CCHS is divided into four levels. Level one involves learning the basics of childcare. Students learn about children from birth to 8 years old and are assessed in areas such as child abuse, behavior, growth and development.
“We go through five units with my level and I have projects that go with [each unit],” ECE 1 instructor Helise Gailboord said. “I am very proud to be the first tier to get them on their way to their journey throughout the high school years. I let them know
The courses after ECE 1 are all taught by Deborah Covard, who is both the program instructor and director of the Littlest Cowboys Preschool.
“The most rewarding part of this program is getting my CDA and walking into the preschool, having all the kids run up to me, giving me hugs and welcoming me.”
“Balancing the two positions is very challenging,” Covard said. “I spend a great deal of time working in both roles, sometimes simultaneously. I have to be organized with my time, my materials and be able to juggle many tasks without becoming overwhelmed.”
Following ECE 1, students enter ECE 2/3, where they apply what they have learned in the preschool. This class takes up two periods, back-to-back. ECE 2 focuses on learning developmentally appropriate practices. ECE 3 focuses on applying the skills learned in ECE 2 within the preschool.
“I’ve learned how to have more patience, especially when trying to control the children,” sophomore and ECE 2/3 student Amanda Gettys said. “With patience, I am able to calm the children down and redirect them into doing what they are supposed to do.”
ECE 4 is the next level and the most rigorous one. During this year, students complete their CDA portfolio, exam and observation, in addition to creating weekly lessons for the preschool students. By the end of ECE 4, students will have completed 120 hours of classroom instruction and 480 hours of direct work with children ages 5 and under.
Directed Studies is the final step of the program and is comprised of students who have received their CDA the previous year. Individuals in this class act as teacher assistants and help others in creating student portfolios, assessing preschool students, preparing breakfast and lunch and mentoring other ECE students.
“I love learning and this job allows me to be a student beyond the typical walls of a high school classroom.”
“The most rewarding part of this program is getting my CDA and walking into the preschool, having all the kids run up to me, giving me hugs and welcoming me,” Directed Studies student Kaitlin Casaubon said. “I love all the relationships I’ve created with them and just being a part of their learning experience.”
In addition to the student educators, two full-time teachers, Kelly Cozier-Diaz and Renee Richel, also work at the Littlest Cowboys Preschool. They mentor students, educate the preschoolers and assist with all of the everyday needs and activities in the preschool.
Two students are also hired each year to work as student teachers in the preschool. They work after school, on early release days, professional study days and teacher planning days.
“My favorite part about being a student teacher is being able to build relationships with the little ones and watch them grow and learn,” senior and student teacher Elizabeth Chery said. “I love learning and this job allows me to be a student beyond the typical walls of a high school classroom.”
This program is unique in the sense that students are a part of it for all four years of high school, allowing them to grow up alongside the preschoolers.
“The relationships I build with my students and the preschoolers is the most rewarding part of my job,” Covard said. “I love to work with my students and watch them grow, not only as students, but as young adults. We are fortunate to have our students for multiple years and seeing their growth and being a part of their life at such an impressionable time is a gift.”
Photo by The Lariat Photography