Peek into Preschool Palace and you'll see children laughing, playing, drawing and learning. But don't be fooled: Preschool Palace is no ordinary preschool.
Based in Grant Watts Elementary School in Scappoose, Preschool Palace is staffed and run by Scappoose High School's Child Development class. Under teacher Robyn Grabhorn's guidance, high school students do everything from writing lesson plans to setting up snack time to cleaning up after the 40 preschoolers enrolled in the morning and afternoon sessions.
"In this class, you don't just sit at a desk and learn from a book," says senior Jessica Norvald. "Here, you actually do it, and that's how you learn."
Every high school student is assigned a preschool "buddy" and works with them one-on-one (buddies rotate throughout the semester) on subjects like counting and writing. This system provides individual attention for every preschooler and allows the high school students to personalize their lesson plans and better understand the different learning styles and personalities in the group. "You get to know what level the kids are at," says student Lida Means. "You learn to set goals for them and for yourself."
High school students also rotate through the "teacher" role, which puts them in front of the whole class reading stories, singing songs, and teaching a lesson plan they designed from start to finish. "This class has opened my eyes to how kids develop and how to manage a classroom," says Rachel Pingle.
Students write reflection papers about their lesson plans that are graded to state writing standards. They learn universal skills like teamwork, public speaking, and communication. Within the next few years, Grabhorn hopes to offer dual credit for the course through Portland Community College.
Many of the students want to work in early childhood education or related careers when they graduate. "When I started doing this class, I realized this is what I wanted to do," says Means.
Luckily for these hard-working high schoolers, word is getting out Preschool Palace's success. Grace Christian Preschool, located in Scappoose, recently contacted Grabhorn to see if any of her students were looking for employment. The school was so impressed after hiring one of the program's past students, Clairissa Williams, that when an assistant job opened up, they knew just where to look.
Says Grabhorn: "They had so many great things to say about Clairissa and liked that she had so many well-learned skills prior to her employment with them."
With Columbia County's unemployment rate hovering at 13.4%, it's no exaggeration that Scappoose's Child Development program is giving students a chance at a brighter future.
That's not to say it doesn't brighten up their present day, too: "There's never a dull moment," says Means, "and that makes it all the more fun."