Friday, October 16, 2009

HECT Prepares Students for Teaching Careers

Tina Luk, a senior at Rowland High School, reads a story to preschoolers during her Careers with Children course. Tina and thousands of other teens in California high schools who take Careers with Children and other courses in the Child Development and Education pathway, offered by Home Economics Careers and Technology, are learning skills that will help prepare them for careers as teachers, pediatricians, counselors and many other occupations that involve working with children. Photo by Chris Sloan.

Jennifer Anaya and Brittany Clark help Rilee (center), decorate a paper pumpkin during their Careers With Children course at Rowland High School. At Rowland High, teenagers enrolled in Careers with Children greatly outnumbers the enrollment at its on-campus Rainbow World preschool, so the younger children often enjoy better than one-on-one attention from their teenage "teachers." Photo by Chris Sloan

Tenth-grader Ashley Medrano of Rowland High School helps Angelito decorate a pumpkin. Behind Ashley is professional teaching assistant Yolanda Walker, the head supervisor of Rainbow World Preschool, located on the campus of Rowland High. Second-year students in Careers with Children assist with supervision of the first-year "teachers."  Because Careers with Children is a popular course at Rowland High School, the school has an instructional aide to supervise the preschool as well as a teacher to teach the course in a separate classroom. Having an aide gives both teens and preschoolers more instructional time. Photo by Chris Sloan

Joaquin, a student at Rainbow World Preschool on the campus of Rowland High School, works with Jennifer Anaya and two of her male classmates in Careers with Children. Men who can teach young children are in especially high demand, but Careers with Children and other courses in the Child Development and Education pathway will also prepare teens for careers such as secondary teacher, school principal and pediatrician. Photo by Chris Sloan

And so will other careers that involve working with children, such as pediatricians, nurses, social workers, counselors and recreation planners. Not to mention, in 10 years, most of California’s current teenagers will be parents themselves, interacting daily with children on a personal level.

Instruction offered through the Home Economics Careers and Technology (HECT) program in California schools is helping to fill that demand. Its graduates have hands-on experience teaching students from preschool through fellow high school students.

“Regardless of what field you’re considering, every student can benefit from at least one child development course,” said Janice DeBenedetti, state consultant to the HECT program. “It helps prepare them for many rewarding careers, and gives them an advantage if they become parents later in life.”

“Students learn techniques for working with children,” said Pat Hakim, who teaches Child Care Occupations at Rowland High School in Rowland Heights. “They also learn how to manage their careers, finances and education after they graduate.” The course is also known as “Careers with Children” at many schools throughout the state.

At most schools, ninth-graders who have any interest in taking any courses offered through their Home Economics Careers and Technology department begin with a course titled “Life Management.” Students interested in culinary arts, fashion or other courses their school offers in a Home Economics Careers and Technology program would also take this course.

In a “Life Management” course, students learn about many aspects of living independently, such as managing finances and credit, searching for employment, consumer studies, menu planning and dealing with conflict. Most “Life Management” courses also teach parenting skills.

From Life Management, the students can then move into one of the career pathways offered by the school’s Home Economics Careers and Technology department. A career pathway is a set of courses providing a student training in a specific career area.

Child Development and Education, as the career path focusing on education is known at most of these schools, is a lot more than playing with kids.  While high schools that offer this program usually have an on-campus preschool, experience in preparing and teaching lessons is only a portion of the training they receive.

The Child Development and Education career pathway typically starts with a course called Child Development. There’s a great deal of academic learning in this course as students will spend most of the first semester learning about pregnancy, childbirth and newborns, and all of the second semester learning about child development.

Child Development may also include other learning projects.  For instance, at Rowland High School, students spend several weeks preparing a report on the “Cost of a Baby,” after researching the costs of health care during pregnancy and childbirth, baby furniture and other supplies and clothes needed for mom and baby.

After the introductory courses, students who want to further study Child Development and Education can move into a course, usually known as Careers with Children, where they actually work with children. Students usually can take this course for two years, with increased responsibilities placed on the advanced students.

Typically, first-year students are charged with supervising the learning centers where preschoolers engage in their activities. Second-year students serve as supervisors to the first-year “teachers.”

“We observe and we help them out with whatever they need,” said Gabriela Huerta, a 12th-grader at Rowland High School in Rowland Heights. “We also give them suggestions on how to do things.”

Rowland has 158 students enrolled in its course where students work with children, and less than 20 in the preschool, so the teens are divided into two groups per period. Each group of teens spends every other day working with the younger children.

First-year students spend their alternate days learning more about child development and strategies for working with children. For instance, they will learn about the state standards governing what preschool students should learn to be well prepared for kindergarten.

This helps them to plan appropriate lessons, which is what the second-year students spend their non-teaching days doing. Lessons for preschoolers typically involve playing with toys, but the teens must select the toys and guide the younger students in using them with a specific teaching goal in mind.

“We have to make sure they know their numbers, their colors, their letters and their shapes,” said Gabriela’s second-year classmate Marlene Robles, as she watched a first-year student help a group of young children solve puzzles, handmade by the teens, that required placing certain colors and shapes in the correct spot on the puzzle mats.

Despite the budget cuts, Rowland has resources through the La Puente Valley Regional Occupations program to hire a teacher, Pat Hakim, and an instructional aide, Yolanda Walker. While Hakim provides instruction to half of the teens in her class, Walker provides the adult supervision necessary for both the other teens and the preschoolers.

 Not all schools can afford instructional aides for this course, so to allow time for high school students’ instruction, they reduce the preschool’s calendar to several days a week or less than a full school year.

Many schools, in addition to Life Management, Child Development and Careers with Children, add additional courses. One of these is “Parenting,” a course that would help any student who plans to someday become a parent, but gives special insight for those who want to make a career for working with children.

A “Child Psychology” course offered by some high schools gives high school students insight in how young children think and how to better relate to them, but also provides enough science instruction to fulfill a college preparation requirement of the University of California and California State university college systems.

That’s especially important for those seeking careers as teachers, or in other professions where they will work with children, but first must obtain a bachelor’s degree. 

Also, many high schools have worked out agreements with their local community college, allowing students who complete a second year of the “Careers with Children” course, complete with development of a portfolio, to also receive college credit.  In some cases, such as at Rowland High School, the training satisfies the community college certification program for teaching assistants.

The agreements also give students who wish to pursue careers as classroom teachers a head start on their college education. Preschool teachers usually must have an associate degree, and in some cases, a bachelor’s degree. The state of California requires most kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to complete a bachelor’s degree and one additional year of education courses, including student teaching.

College preparation is also important for the many students who take this course who are interested in children’s health care or counseling, as these professions require at least a post-secondary certificate, often a college degree, and for those interested in becoming pediatricians, post-graduate study at an accredited medical school.

 There are more than 750 schools offering the Home Economics Careers and Technology program in California, serving more than 300,000 students. Many of these also offer the co-curricular student leadership and career development program FHA-HERO. For more information, call State Consultant Janice DeBenedetti at (916) 323-5025.