When child-development students from Whitehall-Yearling High School came to help in a local preschool classroom in the spring, little did they know brushing out the tangled hair of My Little Pony dolls was in the job description.
In fact, they were in for a number of surprises.
The interaction was all part of the experience at the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Center, as coordinated by Sandy Kemerer, a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at WYHS.
Because the C. Ray was so close to the high school classrooms this year, she thought some one-on-one interaction between the children and her students would be better than anything they would get out of a textbook. For five weeks, one of her childhood-development classes assembled in the classroom, took attendance and then headed to the C. Ray building to play with preschoolers.
"I think this has been a great learning experience for our children and for the older children," said Rebecca Esbaa, a teacher at the C. Ray. "We noticed that the older ones are really working on supporting and nurturing the younger children. And the younger children are really helping them to see how to nurture and support."
For the past five weeks, about 18 of Kemerer's students have been visiting their new "friends," as the children are called at the C. Ray, every Thursday, playing and interacting, sharing and supporting during their normal class time. They could find themselves acting out with puppets, playing in one of the many water stations or helping to place that last puzzle piece. No matter the activity, the hands-on experience has opened the eyes of many older students.
Asia Ross, a junior, didn't expect the children to be so open, she said.
"I thought they would be shy, but most of the kids come up to you and started a conversation."
Ross is a former C. Ray student. Even though her memories of preschool are a bit fuzzy, she said, she looks fondly upon the teachers and the other children with whom she went to school, knowing her interaction could make the same impression on the students she's been visiting.
"It was fun," freshman Treyon Bosley said. "I didn't expect it to be that fun."
Some of the students were surprised by not only the children's behavior but also with their own reactions.
"I was really shy in the beginning with the kids," Sarah Dagebo said. "I didn't really know how to play with them because they seemed shy, too. Then I got comfortable when they began to trust me, and it became a more fun experience."
Emily Dempsey, a sophomore and another former C. Ray student, said she was having fun with the hands-on experience but had no real surprises because she has a younger brother.
"I think the best learning experience is doing rather than reading about it in a book," Kemerer said. "What better way to learn than going over and working with the children one on one?"
To celebrate their last day together, all of the students shared popsicles inside one of the classrooms. The young ones were sorry to hear that the time they had shared with the older students was coming to an end.
"They wait for their big friend to come; then they go back to the same activities each week to continue play," Esbaa said. "Each week that they've come, they look forward to this interaction. They've built relationships in the short weeks (the older students) have been coming.
Kemerer said although the high-schoolers will be in their new building next year and not within walking distance of the C. Ray facility, she hopes to continue the relationship -- and the nurturing.