Work-based learning program offers a ‘Head Start’ in childcare | School News


Through the Career and Technical Education work-based learning program offered at Cumberland County High School, students have been able to build their working experience in order to equip them for their future careers while also staffing local businesses and nonprofit organizations in return. 

Mackenzie Vanlandingham, a senior from CCHS, has been gaining experience in early childhood education by working part-time for the Home Away From Home Head Start & Childcare Center, at the Pinewood Campus. 

HAFH is not just a daycare center, as it also works as a preschool program for the children who enroll there. Teachers at HAFH follow a daily curriculum to aid in child development consisting of things such as art, music, reading, group time, science and outdoor play.

“Each teacher has a different curriculum that they go by,” said Kathy Wilson, the Pinewood Campus Director of HAFH. “They go by different themes for learning every week.”

While her schedule changes by the day, Vanlandingham typically leaves school around 12:30 p.m. and takes care of children ranging between the ages of 2 and 5 until 4:30 p.m., five days a week.

“She was leaning on the fence; she didn’t know whether she wanted to go into it or not,” said Carla Pratt, the work-based learning coordinator at CCHS. 

Vanlandingham first started her work-based learning program in retail, originally working at Dunham’s sporting goods store. When an opportunity to work with HAFH came up, she asked Pratt if she should take the position, an idea which Pratt encouraged.

“Mackenzie is an amazing person. She is a hard worker, dependable, caring, and always eager to learn,” Pratt said. “She has used her WBL experience to begin practicing the academic, technical and soft skills necessary to enter the field of education. Working at Home Away From Home has confirmed that this is the career path for her.”

After graduating this May, Vanlandingham plans on forging her career in special education to accommodate children with disabilities and special needs. 

“I was struggling in school, and I had this teacher that helped me through everything,” Vanlandingham said. “I want to be like her one day and help others.” 

Because she had not yet graduated high school when starting at HAFH in January, Vanlandingham has not been able to take care of the kids by herself, always requiring another caretaker to be in the room with her. That will change on May 20, when she gets her diploma.

“She’s good with the kids, any age you put her in,” Wilson said. “When she first started, she worked in the toddler room, and now I’m trying to get her to go into each room, so she can learn what they do in each classroom.”

In the toddler room, Vanlandingham’s work normally involves changing diapers, playing with the kids, working on simple learning such as shapes and colors, and even helping with the toddlers’ self-help and motor skills.

Since she began working, Vanlandingham has had to take on a lot of responsibility taking care of children enrolled in the center. When asked what the hardest thing she’s had to learn so far was, she said, “Patience. A lot, a lot of patience.”

Vanlandingham will continue working at HAFH into the summer, and also throughout her college years. She has already been accepted to Roane State Community College, and plans on completing the two-year program in special education before transferring to a four-year university.

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