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Murray Journal

Kolt Kids, Cottonwood High’s preschool, open for 2024-25 registrants

May 07, 2024 12:39PM ● By Julie Slama

Cottonwood High’s Kolt Kids preschoolers count the number of teeth the hippo has in a storybook that was being read by a Cottonwood High student teacher. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

A high school student read the rhyming lines on a page of a storybook, then invited preschoolers to come up to the book to count the teeth in the hippo’s mouth.

Last week, the youngsters learned about the sun and planets and creatively painted bright replicas before their high student teachers placed them in a scale model of the
solar system.

Learning and interconnecting subjects is the basis of Cottonwood Kolt Kids, the preschool for 3, 4 and 5 year olds held as a teaching-learning lab at Cottonwood High School. 

“This is a high school student-driven program,” said preschool teacher Natalie Wonnacott. “We guide them to make sure the right things are being taught to the preschoolers and they meet their curriculum standards in science, math, language arts as well as social skills like learning how to take turns.”

Registration for the preschool is now open for 3 and 4 year olds, who are potty-trained for fall 2024. 

The young students attend school for 2.5 hours Monday through Thursday mornings, following the high school calendar, mid-September to mid-May. A $25 deposit is required when registration is submitted on their website, Tuition is $140 per month.

Currently, there are nine preschoolers to 24 high school students, but that number can grow to 12 youngsters to 45 older students.

“We break the high school students into groups, typically with two being teachers and two being helpers during the lesson so it won’t be overwhelming for the little kids,” she said. “Then, we’ll bring more high school students to help with the art project or free play.”

Senior Sammie Vance wanted to follow her two older sisters’ footsteps so she took the class. She may go into childcare or interior design as a future career. 

Her friend, senior Hannah Rowland, heard about the class when a high school counselor came to her junior high.

“The counselor gave it this glowing review and I’ve known people who have had amazing experiences so I thought I’d take the class,” said Rowland, who is considering becoming a pediatric nurse.

This is their second year enrolled in the preschool lab; they, along with senior Ellie Wagstaff, took child development class beforehand.

“We prepare the lessons and the art or science project. We like the projects to be both challenging and fun. Everything is themed around a topic and a letter, then we work together to coordinate it and to teach it,” Vance said.

While one high school group was teaching, others were working on lesson plans for their next theme, dinosaurs, and have plans to investigate with the preschoolers where the dinosaurs lived and what they ate.

The topics have ranged from community helpers to springtime. Crossing guards or police officers may come to visit or students will learn about weather, flowers and animals.

Wonnacott appreciates when police and firefighters come to talk to students about being safe and also, dress up in their gear so “they learn these people are their helpers; they
aren’t scary.”

Vance said they look for projects and games that tie into their lessons.

“We made little hand-held stop signs or playing red light, green light to tie into community helpers. With our lesson with worms, I learned so many new facts, like apparently, they breathe through their skins. The kids find those fun facts fascinating,” she said. 

Rowland remembers teaching a lesson on photosynthesis when the theme was plants.

“I’ve never known more about photosynthesis in my entire life. We do a lot of research and fact-finding and in the process, we learn deeper on subjects we’ve studied,” she said. 

Wagstaff, who is considering a career as an astronaut or as a hairdresser, taught a lesson about eggs and incorporated Humpty Dumpty.

“It was so fun,” she said. “We pushed eggs off of a tower. Some were boiled and some were not. They guessed which ones were which and it was cute because they would pick up the raw egg and said, ‘let me do it again.’”

Through their teaching, Rowland said they learn more about kids with their different personalities. 

“We learn to adapt to teach the shy kid and be patient with others. We learn to problem-solve, to find a way to get everyone to interact and engage in the lesson,” she said.

Even healthy snacks and playtime, where they could be riding on bikes and trikes on chalk-lined tracks, may tie into a lesson. The preschoolers also have time for free play with one of the several stations around the

Holidays are a favorite time, especially when the preschoolers go on a leprechaun hunt only to squeal in delight to find their room awry from a leprechaun while they were away.

Wagstaff liked celebrating Groundhog’s Day.

“We went outside—it was a nice day—and traced out shadows with chalk. They learned more about shadows, and it was fun to have that art experience outside. They’re really smart and learn and remember so much,” said the high schooler who is considering a career as an astronaut or as a

Much of the student-learning is done by the guidance of preschool aide Earlene Rex, who is in the classroom alongside the high school students. She said one of her favorite things is when the preschoolers get to explore different classes taught at the high school, such as the performing arts. 

Instrumental music teacher Amber Tuckness and her students will explain different instruments and play for the youngsters and then, let them pluck a string.

“It’s wonderful for them to have that exposure to music,” Rex said. “She will let them try out the instruments, those with strings or pounding on the drums, which, of course, they love best. Then, when the students perform the plays, we’ll see a production, like ‘SpongeBob’ or the ‘Little Mermaid.’ They love seeing those characters come to life.”

At the end of the year, preschoolers are presented a scrapbook the high schoolers make for them at their graduation, where they receive diplomas. They also sing songs from the year.

When the high school students aren’t preparing or teaching a lesson, they’re learning about children’s education from sudden infant death syndrome to developing an appropriate environment and licensing standards. Their work in the classroom can count toward the 480 required hours for the child development associate certification, Wonnacott said.

“It basically ensures they get a higher pay grade if they go into preschool or into a daycare service,” she said, adding that about 10 students per year may enter the teaching or childcare profession. “Even if they don’t go into the career, many of them have their own kids and they’re learning positive modeling and have invaluable tools to work with kids. Something I like about having this preschool here at Cottonwood is that they’re learning at 3 and 4 years old that high school isn’t a scary place. They’re connecting here; in fact, many of them think it’s their school.”

Rex she started working at the preschool in 2002 because she loved the kids.

“I still do,” she said about her passion. “Many of them are high school students so they return to the preschool to teach and put their own twist on things they enjoyed learning and doing.”

For more information, contact Wonnacott at [email protected] or Rex at [email protected].  λ