Calgary Board of Education

Jack James High School creates strong community through innovative preschool program

April 19, 2011

When you walk into the preschool room at Jack James High School, you are immediately struck by its vibrancy, brightness and cheer. A colourful dragon hangs from the ceiling, a creation put together by the preschoolers with the guidance of the high school students and teachers who lead the preschoolers in their activities each day. Part of a medieval feast and celebration at the preschool, the dragon is made from painted cardboard boxes, hula hoops and colourful fabric. It serves as just one example of the fun and exciting times that take place at the preschool.

students listening to their teacher

And it’s not just the preschoolers who are here to have fun and learn, the high school students who lead them in their activities clearly have a lot of fun while also gaining valuable skills in early learning and child care that they can take into the workplace or post-secondary studies.

One student enrolled in the preschool program explains what the program has meant to her. “I love coming to school in the morning. Before, I didn’t care but now I love being here. Even if I’m in a bad mood when I come here, I always leave with a smile on my face because working with kids makes me happy,” says Morgan McIlroy.

This kind of enthusiasm is exactly what this program is all about as far as Bill Bobenic, principal at Jack James High School, is concerned. “This program allows students to follow their passion through real-life learning. Students have the chance to develop leadership skills and explore their potential.”

This approach to learning is not just isolated to this school and program though. The early learning and child care pathway offered at Jack James High School is part of the system-wide Career and Technology Strategy, which provides students with greater choice of meaningful and fulfilling learning experiences personalized to their interests and passions.

The preschool program, which has been at Jack James for the past 28 years, not only benefits the high school students. The parents who enrol their children in the preschool gain much from this program as well. While many preschools might have two program leaders for a class of 24 preschool students, this preschool offers ratios of 14 program leaders (high school students) to a group of 24 preschoolers. In addition, the cost for parents is much lower than at other preschools.

One parent, Jeanette Chapman, brings her three-year-old son to the preschool and says she would definitely recommend it to other parents. “They are friendly and interactive and they really care about the children. My son loves it and comes home laughing all the time.”

Pam Blake, the preschool program teacher for the past 11 years, knows better than anyone what the preschool program has meant to students and the community. Her students readily say that she is one of the best teachers they have ever had and her passion for the program is obvious when you talk to her.

students creating crafts

Pam explains that what makes this particular program unique is having the preschool work experience take place within the school rather than at an outside preschool facility, as is the case with most other programs like this. “Having the preschool at the school creates a real sense of community. We get to see the students working with the preschool children and we see how they connect and grow together. I would love to see other schools offer programs like this. It’s win, win, win.”

Students who complete the preschool program at Jack James can become certified by Alberta Child and Youth Services to work in preschools and child care facilities throughout the province in addition to making them eligible for preferred placement in the Early Learning Child Care certificate program at Bow Valley College. For more on the many Career and Technology programs offered at the CBE, please visit the Career and Technology Strategy website.