In Portsmouth: Learning in one classroom to teaching at another

Child development program allows students to work directly with youngest pupils ·

PORTSMOUTH — Friday morning, Portsmouth High School senior Grace Dooley wasn’t sitting in English lit class, or working on math equations.

No, she was inside Diana Grinnell’s classroom at Hathaway School, playing a card game — BOOM! — with first-graders Liam Bowley, Isla Driscoll and Olive Cardoza.

In the word-recognition game — here they call it “Whisper Boom,” to keep the volume down — kids take turns drawing cards that have single words printed on then. 

If they know the word, they keep the card. If they get it wrong, it goes back into the bin. And when they draw a BOOM! card, they lose all the cards. The winner is the player with the most cards when the bin is empty.

But this isn’t all fun and games for Grace. This is her schoolwork. She’s one of more than 80 students enrolled in the child development program, one of the high school’s career and technical education (CTE) offerings. (Click here to read about the other CTE program, TV Production.)

Like many students who came up through the Portsmouth school system, Grace knew about the popular program even before she enrolled in it as a freshman.

“I really wanted to go into Hathaway and work in the classrooms with children because whenever I was at Hathaway, I remember all the girls who helped out,” she said.

The early childhood/elementary education course of studies at PHS dates to 1999 but wasn’t offered as a career and technical program until 2008, according to Diane Creese, child development instructor at the school. The pathway gives these students a head start in the field and provides a foundation for careers in elementary education, pediatrics, psychology, sociology and human development and family studies, she said. 

“Some are going on to early childhood and they’re hoping to work at child care centers,” Ms. Creese said. “And, they already have their Early Childhood Foundation Certificate, which is something everybody needs to work in a child care facility.”

Grace plans on studying speech pathology at the University of Alabama. Another senior, Shania Lindsey, hopes to study psychology at Providence College.

“I definitely want to be in a preschool and be an assistant teacher while I’m in college,” added Shania, whose senior project was related to her child development studies.

“I taught three lesson plans to preschool-age children — 3 to 4 — based on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math),” she said. In one lesson plan, students build houses for the “Three Little Pigs” and then tried to blow them down with the breath, followed by a blowdryer, she said.

While Grace was with a group of students that went to Hathaway one or two days a week to work directly with students in kindergarten through second grade — Friday was her last day — Shania joined another group that visited Countryside Children's Center, an early childhood facility on East Main Road.

“This feels more like a home,” Shania said, comparing this class with others. “It’s structured, but you don’t get homework every night and we go out to preschool classrooms. It’s fun to play with them and learn what the teachers do with them.”

During the first year of the program, students take Child Development 1. “We go to the hospital and we see the birth and delivery rooms and so forth and have a pediatric nurse present to us,” Ms. Creese said.

Programmable dolls

Students also take home programmable baby dolls home two nights a week. The dolls are equipped with a program that can sense when they’s been fed, rocked, burped, etc. Shania said those dolls were among the reasons she enrolled in the program.

“I’ve always loved kids, so I knew I wanted to do something with them. I think in eighth grade, at the varsity football games, I saw the girls had their babies with them and it looked so fun,” she said.

Grace said she got the opportunity to work in a special education classroom at Hathaway during her sophomore year. “That was a lot different from a regular preschool; you had to work with each child individually,” she said.

Students also went on field trips to learn about other different educational approaches. “We went to the Waldorf School, Montessori, Head Start and the Navy Base, so we get to see a lot of different environments for early childhood,” Grace said. 

Working with first-graders at Hathaway has been particularly rewarding, she said. “It’s really cool because in the first year, I had a lot of the same kids, so you get to seem them grow — from learning their alphabet to writing complex sentences and reading so much,” said Grace.

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