“What sound does our Sammy Snake make?”
With that question one morning last week, a group of 4- and 5-year-old children started to say, “Sssssss.”
As pre-kindergarten teacher Eve Heinzelman pointed to the other letters in the word September, the children responded: “Missy Mouse is in there” and “Timothy Tiger is in there, too.”
The students are in the pre-kindergarten program offered by Higley Unified School District at both the Elona P. Cooley Early Child Development Center and the Sue Sossaman Early Child Development Center. Both sites opened this year on the new middle school campuses.
Zoophonics is one of the supplemental components of the curriculum that help develop language skills.
“It gives them a physical cue then the sound, and helps cement the learning of those letters for the children,” said Patti Gleason, Higley’s director of early childhood development centers.
In Michelle Hunt’s pre-kindergarten class, the children talked about their responsibilities for the week. Hunt assigned each student a job, such as “kindness reporter,” “line leader,” “electrician” (to turn the lights on and off) and “goodbye wisher.”
“Every person in the class has a job so we really work on the idea of building a school family,” Gleason said.
The classrooms in the early child development centers are designed for the young learners, with science centers, a dramatic play center, sensory tables, touch screen computers and more.
In addition to the program, Higley offers a new program for children ages 3 and 4 called Brilliant Beginnings, and the STARS program for preschool special needs students.
Both campuses were built with large patio areas for children to cycle on, as well as big playgrounds that have become favorite spots for the young students.
In the schools’ cafeterias, children eat “family style” for morning snack and lunch. After playtime outside, they lined up to wash hands and then sat down with their classes.
“Take a plate and pass it on. Take a spoon and pass it on,” a class aide reminded students.
While children ate pears, graham crackers and yogurt, Brilliant Beginnings teacher Jennifer Haddock asked them questions.
“How is your yogurt?” she asked. “What flavor is it?”
Later in class, children examined fingerprints under magnifying glasses as they discovered their individual traits with their teacher, Samantha Lessell.
While it’s always an adjustment for students new to preschool, routine helps, Lessell said.
“A majority of our kids are 3 years old,” she said. “Now (five weeks into school), they know where to go. Our routine is predictable so they know what to expect.”
The teachers also incorporate a lot of music during the day and ask parents to practice lessons at home, she said.
The preschool programs are essential to today’s students, Gleason said, as higher standards are expected in kindergarten and beyond.
“We’re a college-bound district and college-bound starts in preschool,” she said.
Children can enroll as soon as they turn 3. New classes are opening this month, Gleason said.
Parents can select a half- or full-day class. Options include two days a week, three days a week or five days a week. Before- and after-school care is also available.
The Elona P. Cooley Early Child Development Center is located at 1100 S. Recker Road, Gilbert. The Sue Sossaman Early Child Development Center is located at 18655 E. Jacaranda Blvd., Queen Creek.
The next preschool open house will be hosted in October at the Elona P. Cooley Early Child Development Center.