Students at Noli Indian School on the Soboba Indian Reservation have been given the opportunity to take a course in early childhood education. The year-long elective provides classroom instruction four days a week and then a practicum each Friday at the nearby Soboba Tribal Preschool. It is registered on the University of California Pathways as a high school education class.
Noli teacher Jay Dagostino has been making weekly visits to the preschool for a couple of years, providing hands-on science lessons to the kindergarten students there. This is an extension of that program, where his high school students work on a lesson plan during the week and then implement it in person each Friday afternoon. They are required to review the lesson plan afterwards so they can learn what worked, what didn’t, and why.
Dagostino serves as Instructor of Information and a facilitator of lessons for the ECE course. His students do all the hands-on instruction for the kindergarten class. He works closely with the preschool staff to arrange fieldwork assignments and to receive feedback on his students' performance there.
“I have a few students that want to possibly teach preschool and kindergarten as a career,” he said. “I also thought it would be good for future parents.”
Noli Academic Counselor Elizabeth Lacella was approached by Dagostino last school year about adding this opportunity that would benefit high school students that may be interested in working with young children in the future.
“It’s an introduction to a job field,” Lacella said. “It sets the students on a career path that requires them to further their education. It also allows them to create connections and contacts with job potentials for the future.”
Junior Luisa Rivera decided to take the course because she plans to become a teacher at Soboba in the future.
“I liked Fridays when we were with the kids, they were always happy and excited to see us,” Luisa said. “I enjoyed being there. They always made my Fridays bright and turned any bad days into good days.”
Although experience with younger siblings let her know what to expect from the young children, she did learn to be more patient since there were about 20 students in class each week. “This class prepared me for becoming a preschool teacher,” she said.
To encourage her classmates to sign up for the class, Luisa shares with them that “you will have so much fun on Fridays; the kids are adorable and have a lot of energy.”
Even those that don’t plan to go into the childcare or teaching field are learning how to organize, implement ideas and problem solve. They also can hone their leadership and attention to detail skills.
Anthony Salgado-Lopez, a junior at Noli, said he doesn’t aspire to go into a career working with children but was encouraged by Dagostino to enroll in the class.
“I like it and it’s rewarding to see the kids learn something new,” Anthony said. “I feel that being from the same, if not a similar, community from most of the children there, I am giving back in a way that they can say 'hey, he is like me, we are from the same place.’ Maybe I can be the change and that just makes teaching them worthwhile.”
He added, “It was crazy to me the many connections a child's brain made and how fast they can learn. I think that was the best lesson I was taught for the simple fact that it’s everything I am learning and putting into action each week.”
Anthony said working with the kindergartners is different than being around his little brothers who are about the same age. With the students, he has learned “how the tone you use to speak to them can change everything they remember about what was said or done.”
He has told his peers that the class is rewarding, fun and takes a lot of patience and compassion. “But most of all, it’s a challenge,” he said.
The Introduction to Early Childhood Education course syllabus describes the main goal as being to introduce students to early childhood education with emphasis on hands-on learning fieldwork, theories, practice and current trends and developments. Early childhood environments for children from birth through eight years of age are to be studied.
Several objectives to be met by the end of the course include students being able to explain the roles of the early childhood education professional, describe critical issues facing children and families today, explain the importance of the Piaget theory of cognitive development, discuss the implications of diversity on early childhood education and discover why parent, family and community involvement is important in early childhood development or education programs.
The topics covered each week encompass all subjects the kindergartners are learning, from sight words to reading and writing as well as science and math. On a recent Friday, the students were led in physical education activities that might be put into play should it be too rainy to go outside to play. This leads to another important lesson for the ECE students: how to be flexible and improvise when needed.
Kindergarten teacher Sierra Vivanco welcomes the partnership with Noli as it gives her students new ways to engage with lessons they are being taught. She said they look forward to the change of pace on Fridays. Vivanco is pleased to see teens get involved in the program.
“They learn pretty quickly that they can’t be shy and that it’s okay for them to be strict with the young kids,” she said. “It’s also a good way for them to get their feet wet in this area and see if they like it.”
Being the first year of the program, wrinkles are still being worked out, but Lacella feels it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity she is pleased to offer to the high school students.
“The littles get the benefit of something different weekly,” Lacella said. “They enjoy having their ‘other teachers’ come in with a new and exciting lesson.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians