Food, Fun, And The ABCs

Kathleen Santiago, a high school student, works with Zion Osei, a preschooler, in East Hampton High School’s Food and Fun program, which pairs older students with younger ones. Lisa Shaw

    Each generation teaches the next, and at East Hampton High School, the oldest grades are teaching the youngest, twice a week, 12 weeks a year, in a second-semester class called Food and Fun.
    “The program is part of our child development and psychology classes,” said Lisa Shaw, the family and consumer sciences teacher.
    “We invite children from the community to join us in the classroom for a preschool program which is directed by our high school students,” she said. “The students develop mentor relationships with the children and write the lessons for the program. They get to actually teach.”
    Although the name includes the word “food,” “nutrition is just a component,” Ms. Shaw said. “At the center is really science, math, some skill.”
    The program was started over a dozen years ago by Debbie Clemence, and Ms. Shaw has been at the helm for the past three years. This spring, it had 14 preschool-age children and 14 high school students. “It’s been filling up quicker each year,” she said.
    A flier goes to the East Hampton Day Care and Learning Center, but children ages 3 to 5 who are not enrolled there are welcomed too. “It provides a service to the community,” Ms. Shaw said. “It gives parents an opportunity to have an extra hour and a half to run around.”
    Last Thursday, the toddlers were munching on strawberries and stringing necklaces made of Cheerios. “Each student has to develop a lesson,” Ms. Shaw explained. “There’s one lesson for each day. And the lesson is broken down into separate activities.”
    All lessons involve a read-aloud period and then an activity relating to what was read “that teaches the child something.” The alphabet was being taught last week, and one eager participant was seen strolling down the hallway after class with her father and younger sibling, reciting her ABCs.
    “There’s a snack time too, always very popular,” she said with a laugh. The focus is on healthy snacks with fresh ingredients.
    There is fairly fierce competition to get a spot in the spring semester class. “There’s a lot of interest in child development,” said Ms. Shaw. “But most importantly, most of the students who choose this class really like children.” The students who take the course learn to spot the developmental differences between, say, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. Students keep a journal of their findings, which is turned into Ms. Shaw for review. “Everybody learns,” she said.
    The program also teaches the high school students about prenatal and pregnancy care, and about methods of birthing. Currently the course has 13 females and 1 male. “I would like to have more boys,” Ms. Shaw said.
    Since the program has been around for 14 years, recently Ms. Shaw has enjoyed seeing high school seniors take the class who were toddlers in the class all those years ago. “It’s amazing to see them, to hear them talk about that experience, and how well they remember it,” she said with a smile. “Some of them said they couldn’t wait to give back what they had learned here.”