By KIARA SORIANO
USFSP Student Reporter
TARPON SRINGS – Still only 17, Trinity Nelson graduated from Tarpon Springs High School last May and is already one semester short of an online associate degree in early childhood education at St. Petersburg College.
But every weekday morning finds Nelson back at her old high school, this time in a different role.
She is the lead teacher at a preschool on campus, overseeing the activities of 11 children ages 3 through 5 and directing the work of 86 high school students who help with the teaching.
The Little Spongers Preschool is one of three community preschool programs affiliated with the Pinellas County school district. It has been at Tarpon High for 30 years, serving little ones in the community, including a few who are children of Tarpon High teachers.
Students enrolled in the high school’s early childhood education program get experience and training in the preschool, and when they graduate they have the state-required credentials to enter the early childhood workforce.
Nelson, herself a product of the school’s program, had a close relationship with director Jason Ranze during her time at Tarpon High.
“I’ve been volunteering at my old elementary school for years and Ranze knew this, so once I graduated, he offered me the job since his other teacher had just left,” said Nelson.
“Trinity has been in my class since her freshman year and she’s a great student, so I knew that she would be great for this job since I trust her,” said Ranze.
The 86 high school students who help in the preschool are divided among five class periods. Nelson helps them develop lesson plans and keep up with their own classwork.
“When I first started working here, I was kind of nervous,” said Nelson. “I didn’t know how to be the boss of people that I know and went to school with, but I think I’ve gotten better as the months have gone by.”
The Little Spongers Preschool operates on a Tuesday-to-Friday schedule. On Mondays, Nelson prepares for the upcoming week and assists student teachers who need help, while also squeezing in time for her college homework when she can.
A Friday morning at the preschool starts at 8 for Nelson. That gives her a few minutes before the school opens at 8:30 to go over her plans for the day. Then she stands at the door greeting the preschool students and their parents as they enter.
Since it was a Friday, both the high school and preschool students seemed excited about the weekend ahead. A few of the parents stopped to talk to Nelson as they bid their children goodbye, and she made sure to greet every preschooler as they put their belongings down.
Nelson observes the student teachers as they teach lessons that fall under the weekly theme of animals and interjects if a preschool student needs assistance. After the class period ends and new student teachers enter, Nelson leads both sets of students through circle time as songs are introduced and the preschoolers learn about the calendar and telling time.
When the bell rings for high school lunch period, the children are having nap time. Nelson reverts to her high school student days.
“Since my friends still go here since they’re seniors, we usually all get together and eat lunch since this is the only time we get to see each other during the day,” she said.
After high school lunch, it’s time to wake up the children for their lunch. Nelson helps her assistants put sandwiches, milk, and fruit cups onto trays that are handed out to the kids.
After lunch comes the last activity and everyone’s favorite time of day: playtime. Nelson sits with a student in her lap on the small playground and makes sure that everyone stays safe as they run around having fun.
After outside time, the preschool students return to await the arrival of their parents after a brief closing activity. One by one, Nelson bids each child goodbye until next week.
Then she spends about 20 minutes recapping the day with the director before departing for home.