Exploring the Possibilities of a Career Working with Young Children
February is Career Technical Education (CTE) Month.
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
JANUARY 30, 2019 – Over time, Melanie Gonzalez came to see that she wanted a career that would enable her to work with children.
“I like kids, and I thought it was a perfect career to go into,” Gonzalez said. “They are fun to be with.”
She likes how open children are to learning – both from the people they spend time with and from interacting with their surroundings.
“It’s really endearing,” she said.
As a step toward her goal of a career working with children, Gonzalez, whose home high school is Mount Tabor, enrolled last year in the first year of the Early Childhood Education program offered by the Career Center. She found the first year rewarding, so she signed up for the second-year program this year.
Gonzalez is now a senior. At the moment, she envisions becoming a kindergarten teacher.
Jeri Barnhardt teaches both the first-year and second-year of the Early Childhood Education program, which is open to juniors and seniors. The program focuses on children from birth through third grade.
“The purpose is to develop a knowledge of and love for children for students thinking it might be a career,” Barnhardt said.
They cover such topics as the stages that children go through as they grow, how to set limits in positive ways, and developing lesson plans.
The program is structured so students spend about 50 percent of their time in class and 50 working with children out in the world. Students participate in internships that Barnhardt has set up at a number of places. In Year II, she wants students to explore their own interests as much as possible, so students are welcome to set up their own internship.
The school system provides transportation to and from internship sites set up by the school system, and students are welcome to serve as interns elsewhere if they can provide their own transportation.
Gonzalez is a member of the group that goes to Petree Elementary on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work with students from pre-kindergarten through first grade. The students ride an activity bus from the Career Center that also drops off a group of students interning at a Head Start site.
Like Gonzalez, a number of the students in the program plan to become elementary school teachers one day.
“I want to be a teacher, and I know this is a first step to my future,” said Kyndal Evans, whose home school is Mount Tabor. “This is going to help me explore the options.”
“I love children, and I’m thinking about being a teacher,” said Avery Browning, whose home school is West Forsyth. “It combines all of my loves.”
Browning discovered her desire to work with children for a career while babysitting and helping out with programs for children at her church, Ardmore Baptist.
C-Mecca Riddick, whose home school is Reynolds, also plans to go into elementary education.
“I really want to work with younger children,” she said. “I enjoy their company.”
Others have different goals. Jonise Rivers, whose home school is Glenn, would like to own her own day care center one day. She has learned a lot in the Early Childhood Education program, she said. As an example, she mentioned learning positive techniques for helping children to calm down.
Rivers said that she has enjoyed working with the students at Petree.
“They are really nice, and they are so sweet,” she said. “They are full of energy.”
Some students don’t envision a career working directly with children.
Myara Sixtos, whose home school is North Forsyth, plans to go into real estate. She enjoys children and thought participating in the program would be a good experience. And it has been, she said.
For Barnhardt, it’s not necessary for students to have clear career goals at this point in their lives. Some may discover through the class that they don’t want to work with children for a career, Barnhardt said. That’s valuable, too. Discovering that in high school can open them up to other possibilities.
Or the experience can help the shift their focus. Initially, Tynasha Goolsby, whose home school is Glenn, envisioned becoming a classroom teacher. Now, she is thinking about becoming a speech pathologist. Among the things she has learned along the way are the importance of patience and the value of spending time with children to understand their needs.
“Experience is something you do need,” Goolsby said. “You need that personal interaction.”
Students in the program also participate in service projects that benefit or advocate for children.
“Our main service project is connected with Read Across America which promotes literacy in our schools, in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday in early March,” Barnhardt said. “To raise funds for this project, the students sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts here at the Career Center a few times a year and some of the profits go toward purchasing books for the classrooms we intern in.”
“We also create a lesson plan, read a book, and plan an activity for those classrooms for that national event.”
Students spoke highly of Barnhardt. Monica Florido, whose home school is Reynolds, decided to participate after her older sister, Veronica, who is now a student at Appalachian State University, participated in Early Childhood Education.
“My sister told me how good it was and how much she had learned,” Florido said. “She is going to college for this.”
Barnhardt has been an educator for 39 years. She spent most of that time in elementary schools as a teacher in kindergarten through third grade. She also served as a literacy specialist who focused on helping children becoming more comfortable readers.
Looking to shift her focus a bit, she came to the Career Center to teach high school students wanting to learn more about working with children.