By RACHAEL GRAY
Parent involvement is essential for young children learning and comprehending the basics.
That's why Andrea Baker, teacher of 4-year-olds, or the ELF program at Garfield Early Childhood Center, involves parents whenever she can.
Baker often sends home worksheets and activities for the students to do with their parents. For some lessons, the parents are asked to come into the classroom to work with their children.
Baker said it's advice she would give to young teachers with early childhood classrooms.
"Get parents involved in whatever way you can. I feel like that's a big part of what I do — just to help parents to know what to do with their child in the way of learning," Baker said.
Baker is one of six finalists for the Crystal Apple Award, an award given annually to Finney County's top educators. The C.A.R.E. Task Force of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce announced the 2012 finalists last month. C.A.R.E. stands for Community Awareness and Recognition in Education.
The top three finalists will be named as the 2012 Crystal Apple Teachers of Finney County at a banquet Nov. 8 at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave. The winners will receive an engraved crystal apple, $1,000 cash award and other prizes. The other three finalists will be presented with a cash award of $250. Other finalists are Rod Willis, Buffalo Jones Elementary School, Adam Cassellius, Garden City High School; Emily Hamlin, Holcomb High School; Diane Smith, Buffalo Jones; and Debbie Adler, Jennie Barker Elementary School.
Baker went into education because she could relate to struggling students.
"I really struggled with school. It was hard for me. I got pulled out for reading help, pulled out for math help, then I would go home and have hours of homework. It was difficult," she said.
Baker, who grew up in Sublette, said some remarkable teachers helped her overcome the hurdles and obstacles during school. She then wanted to do the same for children. She said preschool age students are enjoyable to teach.
"We do a lot of academics, but we get to do it in fun ways with games and playing. They don't even realize they're learning," she said.
Last week, the students learned about pumpkins. They read stories about pumpkins, explored pumpkins in the science center and baked pumpkin muffins on Thursday morning.
"When I first started teaching, I thought, 'I'm getting paid to do this?' I just love it," she said.
Baker graduated from Emporia State University. Before student teaching, she wanted to teach kindergarten.
"My student teaching was at a preschool, and it was just a great fit," she said.
Baker's students come from a wide variety of backgrounds — some who have had school experience in the Head Start Program or Early Childhood Special Education Program, and some who have had no experience. In order to be a part of the program, the children have to meet one of the qualifications, which include coming from a low-income family, a single-parent family, a family with a parent who doesn't have a high school diploma, or a family with a parent working in agriculture. Baker said those students tend to be at-risk.
"That means they're maybe not getting the parental help they need at home," she said.
Through her lessons, Baker teaches students the basics: numbers, names, colors and what they need to know to build a foundation of education.
During the lessons, Baker has to keep moving and keep the lessons interesting. She said teaching that age group is for the caring and the energetic.
"You've got to love kids, and you're here to teach academics, but you've got to teach social skills, as well. You've got to let them know you're there for them. If you don't have that social involvement with the kids, the academics aren't going to come as easily," she said.
Baker and her husband, Will, live with their four children in Holcomb. Their children are Addisyn, 11, Ashlyn, 9, and 5-year-old twins Alodie and Weston.