Tiny Tomahawks celebrate 40 years of early childhood education

Natalie Sadek, Online Editor

Students running late to class or taking the long way to the bathroom often do a double take when they see small preschoolers lining up in the middle of the D100 hallway.

Random children are not wandering the halls, but rather Algonquin offers the unique experience of a learning lab preschool called the Tiny Tomahawks. The program is currently celebrating its 40 year anniversary.

The Tiny Tomahawk program is run in conjunction with Early Childhood Development and Early Childhood Education classes. During their classes and by working directly with preschoolers ages three to five, high school students learn about early childhood education.

“The high school students are getting a hands-on experience with the nature of the class,” family and consumer science teacher and Tiny Tomahawks director Susan Muise said.

Tiny Tomahawks founder and retired family and consumer science teacher Margaret Stebbins started the program in 1979 after being inspired by the Early Childhood Education course offered at Cranston High School in Rhode Island, where she student taught her senior year of college. The program was the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

“During my first and second years at ARHS, I campaigned long and hard for the addition of a new course offering: Early Childhood Education,” Stebbins said. “In 1979, I was teaching only one class of Early Childhood [Education]. My students and I converted a regular classroom into a makeshift preschool. We had four children enrolled, and the rest is history, as they say.”

Currently, there are 21 children enrolled in the preschool.

After Stebbins retired in 2010, retired family and consumer science teacher Candace Loughlin took the program over. Once Loughlin retired in 2015, Muise then became the third director of the program.

“[Stebbins] had the innovation and skill to start the first program of its kind in the state,” Loughlin said. “I was most fortunate to learn from her many years of experience.”

Students interested in early childhood education find the preschool to be a valuable opportunity for gaining experience in the field. In the course, students learn educational theories, and the different ways that children ages three, four and five develop and then apply this information in creating lessons and interacting with the children.

Senior Claire Waterman plans to major in early childhood education and has completed three semesters in the program by taking Early Childhood Development, Early Childhood Education and then acting as Muise’s teacher’s assistant.

“This program helped me gain confidence while working with children, and it gave me an insight on what lesson planning would be like for when I need to do it in my own career,” Waterman said. “I gained a lot of knowledge about the development of children both mentally and physically.”

The preschool has 30 spots that are filled on a first come first serve basis. There is a $400 tuition fee for the full academic year. According to Muise, the children’s families enjoy being a part of a learning lab preschool.

“In the preschool, the children who come are children from the community and surrounding communities whose families are seeking a preschool experience for them and find value in a program where the little kids and the big kids are learning from one another,” Muise said.

In addition, many of the children’s families have been a part of the Tomahawk community for many years.

“Some of those first Tiny Tomahawks from the 1970’s, they’re in their 40s now,” Muise said. “It is possible that someone could have been a Tiny Tomahawk, then a Tomahawk and now have children who are Tiny Tomahawks. I have parents of some of the children in the program now who went here. It’s really neat to have it come full circle for some of these families.”

While the premise of the program has remained the the same over the years, Stebbins hopes the Tiny Tomahawk will continue to grow and maintain its success in coming years.

“On a few occasions when I am in the high school on other business, I stop by the Tiny Tomahawks,” Stebbins said. “As I stand in the doorway, I always smile because I see [Muise], the high school students and the preschoolers all happily engaged in activities. I hope and believe that the Tiny Tomahawks will go on for another 40 years.”