OAKLEY — For one eight-week period each winter it isn't uncommon to hear youthful giggles or an off-key rendition of "ring around the roses" heard throughout the outdoor quad at Oakley's Freedom High School. No, it isn't the high school students reminiscing about their younger days, but the Little Falcons' Preschool program offered on campus as an educational tool for high school students.

The preschool is part of the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) that offers not only an inexpensive preschool to about 50 children each year, but also a pathway for high school students who wish to explore a career in early childhood education or any field that works with children.

Austin Gardner, left, 18, a senior at Freedom High School in Oakley, steps away from hula hoops as preschool students try to put them around him during
Austin Gardner, left, 18, a senior at Freedom High School in Oakley, steps away from hula hoops as preschool students try to put them around him during recess at the Freedom High ROP preschool in Oakley, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

"The preschool program provides high-quality career preparation classes and services for our students," Freedom's ROP Careers with Children coordinator Elizabeth Rodriguez said.

The program begins with an instructional period, off-site hands-on learning and the on-site preschool, which is set up and run by the students.

"The students work on creating the lesson plans with age appropriate activities and then implement the programs," Rodriguez said.

The ROP program is open to students over 16 years old, or generally those in their junior year of high school. The full-year program gives students a chance to explore careers related to education through the study of child development, positive guidance techniques, curriculum development and health and safety.


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Rodriguez said active class participation is enhanced by fieldwork at school sites under the guidance of a mentor teacher.

"All students are required to observe and participate in a variety of settings and classrooms at the preschool, elementary and middle school levels. Students who complete this course with a B or better are given credit toward classes at Los Medanos College's Early Childhood Education program."

For Freedom senior Rachel Ormsby, working within the ROP preschool program has given her an idea of what she would be up against if she pursued her goal of being a special-education teacher.

"Working in the program has been very encouraging in helping me to decide what types of students I want to work with within the special needs community," Ormsby said.

Through the program she has had a chance to work with special needs students at O'Hara Middle School, Oakley Elementary School and Gehringer Elementary School. At each program she was able to see what age group and types of special needs she was most interested in working with in the future. She said she was also able to work with teachers on paperwork and creating learning activities for the students.

Ormsby is in her second year with the ROP program and alongside Freedom senior Ana Gil is now helping to assistant manage the ROP preschool under Rodriguez's direction.

"Working on the ROP program is really good hands-on experience," Gil said.

As a shy person, Gil said she had to step out of her comfort zone to work with the preschoolers.

"It really made me proud and feel good working with these children," she said.

Gil is hoping to begin working right away out of high school in one of the local preschools and then go to college to either become a preschool or a kindergarten teacher.

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