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Young learners give lessons

Above, Nilah Whitfield, right, carries a trashcan around to her classmates after snack time. New classes for 4-year-olds at the Applied Technology Center also will serve as a lab for the high school students studying early childhood.
Above, Nilah Whitfield, right, carries a trashcan around to her classmates after snack time. New classes for 4-year-olds at the Applied Technology Center also will serve as a lab for the high school students studying early childhood.

While high school students at the Applied Technology Center learn about welding, cosmetology or design, a group of much younger students down the hall is hitting the books for the first time.

This week, the Rock Hill school district began offering a class for 4-year-olds at the ATC.

Typically, classes for 4-year-olds are held at the Central Child Development Center, but the new class allowed 18 children off a waiting list of about 60.

"This is to help prepare them for kindergarten," said Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent for instruction and accountability.

The classes are set up for students who, for any variety of reasons, are deemed at risk of being less prepared to start school.

Students attend the class for 2 hours, 45 minutes per day. If all goes according to plan, the district will introduce a second class at ATC after winter break.

The new class also will serve as a learning lab for early childhood education students at the ATC. The high school early childhood classes are just across the hall from the 4-year-olds' room.

"The students that come out of this program, with these authentic experiences, they leave school knowing what they want to do," said Don Gillman, director of the ATC.

Gillman said he envisions his students working with the younger children one on one and sometimes developing mentor relationships with them.

Jackie Chumley, director of early childhood education, said parents have not expressed concerns about the high school students working with the children. The 4-year-olds' classroom is not in the main building and is set up so that older students aren't often walking by.

The newly set-up classroom is full of all things tiny -- tiny chairs, tiny books and a tiny miniature kitchen.

Children there will learn things such as the alphabet, counting and shapes, teacher Joyce Harris said.

Songs and classroom activities often repeat the same things over and over to help drive the knowledge home.

"In everything we're doing, it increases their vocabulary," Harris said. "The larger the vocabulary, the easier it is to learn to read."

Four-year-old classes also are able to teach basic social skills -- how to get along with others and make friends.

"It works on developing the whole child," Chumley said. "In early childhood, we've got this short window of time that we can focus on those social skills."

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