Children today have very ambitious dreams. They want to be princesses and astronauts; they want to win the Superbowl and sing to crowds of millions. Unfortunately, not many people ever grow up to make their childhood dreams a reality. Sandy Milsap, family and consumer science teacher at Bethel High School, had a very different childhood dream, and was one of the fortunate few to see that dream come true.
As a child, Milsap dreamed of one day becoming a teacher. She was always interested in education. Milsap says, “When I was a little kid, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.” She admits, that there were limited options for women at the time she was going to school, but years of babysitting and camp counseling helped her to realize that she loved working with kids.
Milsap started teaching at Bethel High School in September of 1976 when she started the Child Development Program. Today, Milsap provides interested high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to work with preschool students in the “Little Wildcats” program. High schoolers are assigned both a three, and four-year-old student to work with throughout the semester. Each teen is to engage his/her student in activities that will help develop small and large motor skills, problem solving skills, social skills and listening skills that will prepare the student for kindergarten.
The “Little Wildcats” program differs from many other preschool programs through the way skills are taught. Milsap places high emphasis on learning through play. Preschoolers are given the opportunity to play as they please for most of their school day, with the exception of a morning meeting, a group craft project, and a story at snack time. Through play, children can learn almost anything, and games and toys keep their attention much easier than a complex lesson.
The same goes for the high school students. The Child Development program was designed completely with learning in mind. Though some students see Child Development as a break from math tests and research papers to play “Duck-duck-goose” and “Pretty, pretty Princess,” there is an evident curriculum throughout the semester.
Milsap also runs the “Morning Stars” program, providing local parents the opportunity to drop their elementary-aged children at school early on their way to work. Here, the high schoolers get the chance to work with slightly older children. It’s often a whole different experience for them.
Coutney Pessolano (’12) has taken both Child Development I and Child Development II, and describes her favorite part as, “working with kids at different ages and capabilities.” Child Development in often the first opportunity many students have working with children in an academic setting.
Unlike most teachers, Milsap has the opportunity to work with students on opposite sides of the education spectrum. Each day, she gets to work with students just starting their educational careers, and those preparing to graduate. Although she enjoys working with both groups, Milsap admits that she enjoys the adult conversations she has with the high school students, and having the ability to reason with them. She notes that they’re “interested in learning about themselves and the children.”
Milsap especially admires the relationships the high school and preschool students form. Though students start the semester as strangers, they finish as friends. Julie Zeller (’12) recalls the relationship she had with her three-year-old last fall. “We colored everyday in silence for the first month or so. Then, out of no where, I had to tell her to pause and breath, she was talking so much. As soon as she knew she could trust me, we became best friends.”
Milsap loves when the older students see themselves in the children. They’ll approach her saying “I was just like that when I was a child.” She also loves when the high schoolers indicate their understanding of why their parents or teachers did certain things, or when abstract concepts become concrete through the children’s actions. It’s these flashbulb moments that make it all worth it, and prove to Milsap, that her dreams really have come true.