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Teaching 'adult' skills to students at a young age

4/30/2014

By DIANE GASPER-0'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-0'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

If 40 truly is the new 60 for people approaching what used to be retirement age, then there's something to be said for preschool being the new kindergarten.

A bunch of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in the USD 489 Preschool in Hays are making Robert Fulghum's bestselling book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," obsolete.

Visitors to the local preschool classroom at Hays High School on Monday were treated to a day in the life of team teachers Joelene Vitztum and Tina Albers, in a room full of mini students where everyone has a job.

"And they serve their duties with pride," Vitztum said.

While Vitztum and her classroom helpers prepared for a pizza-making party, Vitztum quizzed the children.

"What are our manners?" asked Vitztum, who team teaches the district's preschool along with Tina Albers.

" 'Yes,' 'please' and 'no thank you,' " piped up Sashi Sharma.

"And 'thank you,' " the sharp 4-year-old quickly added.

"And 'you're welcome,' " said a smiling Vitztum.

Following instructions to a T, the youngsters held out their hands for Vitztum to squeeze hand sanitizer on.

That now is the version of washing hands before they eat, just like in Fulghum's book -- or in this case, before they handled the food to make their pizzas -- then helped clean up their mess.

The lessons formerly learned in kindergarten now are staples of preschools.

"It's amazing how these kids can get used to a routine, know what to do and where to go," Vitztum said as she showed off her students to Pizza Hut employees on hand to help with the pizza-making project.

She grabbed a rolled up American flag and said, "Let's show what we know about the flag."

They were eager to shout out the answers as Vitztum asked how many stripes and stars there were on the flag.

Then they all promptly stood, placed their hands over their hearts and clearly recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

"At the beginning of the year, they don't know what the Pledge of Allegiance is," Vitztum said. "Now, they're still not sure what the words mean, but they can sure recite it."

Since the self-funded program opened in O'Loughlin Elementary School in 2007, both the morning and afternoon classes perennially are filled to the maximum number of 17 students each.

Vitztum, a former kindergarten teacher, decided to team up with Albers when the preschool enrollment grew after just one semester, and they have been together ever since.

Vitztum said the preschool's location at O'Loughlin Elementary School was ideal because "we knew what (the children) needed to know for kindergarten when they walked out of preschool."

The preschool was moved to Hays High this year because of a growth of elementary enrollment at O'Loughlin, and the preschool teaching duo was disappointed at first.

"It's a change, and sometimes change is hard," Albers said.

However, she and Vitztum both added, it has been a good change.

They now have access to a gymnasium, and high school students in the career and community connections class are able to get some hands-on experience working with young children by helping out in the preschool classroom.

"And it gives our children some extra one-on-one learning," Albers said. "It's been good for both age groups."