Brooks Knutson shaped a purple Play-Doh formation as he sat next to two other daycare children.
“These are the big naughty snakes,” he said, holding the purple, skinny and smooth Play-Doh so that the others could see.
“He made a snake, and that is his snail,” explained high schooler Isabel Castro, 18, of DePue. (The toddler told her that the snake can eat the snail).
Castro is one of about 28 high school students gaining experience from a child care preschool program.
The program, called Edu-Care, is offered through the Area Career Center at La Salle-Peru Township High School.
The three toddlers swiftly and unannounced left the table to find something else.
“It’s fine, they come and go,” Castro said, laughing. “And then a new group comes.”
The annual program started up again last week. High school students interested in working in early childhood get the opportunity to work with children ages 2-to-5-years old.
The number of students typically varies by day, but can be as high as 20 children per session; numbers tend to be lower in the afternoon (the program is looking for more children in the afternoon).
“My students are interested in early childhood,” said Barb Rutkowski, ACC child care instructor. “They’re all very, very good with the children.”
On the other side of the room was Chloe Carroll, 16, of Arlington:.
“I’ve always been good with kids, and I have a 2-year-old niece — I love her to death,” she said.
“I feel like so many kids don’t seem to get people to pay attention to them, so I figure it would help if I did,” she said as she smiled while hammering a toy nail into a board with Lia Bray, who’s turning 4 years old.
Lia walked away from the nail board, and toddler Hayden Maltas came over.
He tried communicating with Carroll, and if she listened closely, she could hear him say something close to “goggles.” He left for a minute and came back wearing laboratory goggles, staring at her in a quizzical sort of way.
“It’s fun that we get to actually interact with the kids, a lot of schools don’t get to do that. They just do lesson plans and stuff,” Carroll said. She hopes to become a preschool or daycare teacher.
The children get to experience group time, art, science, music, language and more.
“The kids love it. I think they have a lot of fun especially when they get to do group time and all get to sit together,” she said.
On the other side of the room, Elladee Escobar, 17, of DePue and Angelo Feliciano, 16, of Oglesby prepared to cut apples for the kids.
“I’m am thankful for this class. It really helped figure out where I wanted to be, where I wanted to go in life,” said Escobar. “Rutkowski is an amazing teacher.”
Escobar, who’s completing her second year in this program, wants to be a preschool teacher one day.
“It’s a good feeling inside when you see the kids first come and they don’t speak much, don’t know their letters very well, don’t know their numbers very well, and toward March when it’s almost over, they know all their letters, they know up to 20, they can speak to you in full sentences. It’s a great feeling knowing you helped them learn so much.”
Feliciano said it’s nice to see the kids progression as well. One child, Pedro Cano, came to the program not speaking English, but by Feliciano talking to him every day, Pedro is picking up little words at a time.
The high schoolers plan to teach the toddlers basic Spanish words.
“Hi, Pedro,” Escobar shouted to Pedro as he pushed a shopping cart and smiled back to her.
Ali Braboy can be reached at (815) 220-6931 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @NT_LaSalle.