School's teaching program seeks certification

Sitting in the lunchroom at Westside High School, ninth-grader Dominique Stewart read the book The Happy Birthday Present to a small group of 4- and 5-year-olds Wednesday.


She asked if they could read with her. She then pointed out pictures in the book and asked them to identify them.

"There's a cat. Meow!" exclaimed Gregory Randolph, 5.

"I like it. It's fun," Dominique said of her interaction with the children, adding that she had learned "you've got to have a lot of patience with them."

Dominique is part of the school's Early Childhood Education program and Wee Patriots Academy, a school-based pre-K offering.

The overall childhood education program includes in-class instruction time and the Wee Patriots Academy. Officials hope to get the entire program industry-certified through the state Board of Education by next year.

Deborah Welcher, a Wee Patriots director, said certification would put her academy on the same level as any other day care. Should the Westside program gain certification, a student 18 or older who completes the program and then passes a standardized test may also become a teacher's assistant, said Nancye Peel, a child care teacher at Westside.

"That's just taking it to another level," Ms. Welcher said of the push to become industry certified. "It's not just for us. It's for them (the students)."

Ms. Welcher said the school hopes to apply for the state certification in the spring.

The Wee Patriots program is Georgia Lottery-funded and allows hands-on experience with children for role model students who are interested in going into a child-related field. Students also receive in-class instructional time. Six weeks of training is required before students can work with children.

"My classes are articulated with those of Augusta Tech," Ms. Peel wrote in an e-mail. "This saves students time and money if they go on to Augusta Tech."

The children in Wee Patriots are placed through the school system's regular pre-K open enrollment held each spring.

"I have children from all over," Ms. Welcher said, noting that not all of the children come from the Westside High school zone.

The Wee Patriots Academy is among several pre-K programs offered in Richmond County high schools, Ms. Welcher said.

In Columbia County, Evans High school runs a half-day child care program for 2- and 3-year-olds, but it's not considered a pre-K, said Columbia County school board member Regina Buccafusco, adding that it's the only such program in the county's school system.

Wee Patriots, Ms. Welcher said, was the first to transition to pre-K requirements in Richmond County, doing so last year. She said several other schools have followed this year.

If approved, she said, Westside would become the first in the county to receive the industry certification.

Students who go through the Wee Patriots Academy and Early Childhood Education program from ninth through 12th grade can receive nine credit hours at a technical college -- which is the equivalent of about two classes, Ms. Welcher said.

Such programs, she said, weren't available when she was in high school. "They're going to have a head start in college."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or


WHAT: Wee Patriots Academy, part of Westside High School's Early Childhood Education program

PURPOSE: Funded by the Georgia lottery, the pre-K program allows for hands-on experience with 4- and 5-year-olds for high-schoolers interested in going into a child-related field.

JUMP START: Participating high-schoolers can receive nine credit hours at a technical college.




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