QUINCY -- Sitting at a table ringed with preschoolers busy with an activity, Amber Schuerman just might be looking at her future.
The Quincy High School junior hasn't decided whether she wants to be a teacher or a daycare provider, but working with students in the Vocational Preschool is a good introduction to both.
"I like it because I get to interact with kids," Amber said. "I've had experience with kids before. I have nieces and nephews, so I'm around kids all the time."
The preschool, operated for more than 40 years at Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center, gives high school juniors and seniors direct contact with preschoolers and a window on possible careers in early education and child care.
Preschool Director Cinda Hummel said the program is a unique opportunity for students, families and the community.
Other high schools "may have children come in for a few hours here and there for a couple of weeks, but we truly operate an eight-month-a-year preschool," Hummel said
"We're trying to help high school students see the need in our community for quality child care workers. As we want to continue to grow the workforce in our community, what we're hearing is we need quality child care for skilled workers to come to Quincy. We're kind of on the ground floor of building that quality childcare workforce."
Hummel and Veronica Fey, with help from 30 high school students, oversee the preschool serving 3- and 4-year-olds with a morning session four days a week and an afternoon session three days a week from September through May.
"Our goal is to have children ready for the next adventure in their life whether it be another year of preschool or to go to kindergarten. I feel like we do a great job here," Hummel said.
"It's pretty fun," said Hailie Fugate, a high school junior who wants to be a preschool teacher. "The best part is getting to interact with them and watching them learn and grow."
Four-year-old Bella McPherson likes playing with baby dolls and her friends at the preschool.
"I just like to come," Bella said.
A typical day has preschoolers enjoying free choice play before moving into circle time, small group work, snack, storytime and, weather-permitting, time outside on the playground.
High school students lead small group work, read stories and interact with the students, and the preschoolers have their own jobs starting with ringing the bell to clean up from free choice play.
"I'm the snack helper today," 4-year-old Paisley Summers said. "I have to put napkins out."
Working on a jack-o-lantern craft project prepared by high school senior Nevaeh Douglas helped students hone fine motor skills to cut out pieces and glue them together. High School senior Joscelynn Favre worked with preschoolers on determining the color and size of apples in another activity.
"You get to be hands-on with the students. You really get that 'teachery' feeling because you get to interact with them," said Joscelynn, who wants to go into early education.
"We already had a level one credential from last year (in Child Care I)," Nevaeh said. "It gives us a head start if we want to work at a daycare. We'd probably end up getting the spot over someone who doesn't have it."
High school students take two introductory classes, parenting skills and child development, prior to Child Care I and Child Care II which are available to juniors and seniors. Child care students are divided into two teams and alternate weeks working in the preschool with time in the adjacent classroom on textbook assignments, preparing lessons for the following week and doing observations.
High school senior Tatiana Phillips stood with a clipboard in hand observing one of the preschoolers. Tatiana looked for how long the student stayed at learning stations, how she interacted with other students and monitored motor skills.
"I have a little experience with kids. I'm trying to figure out if I want to take it beyond high school to get in the field," Tatiana said.
"The children are the motivator for them to get the work done in the high school classroom," Hummel said. "They want that time to build relationships with kids. The children look for their high school friends."
High school students can tap into job opportunities at Quincy's daycare centers and further their education locally through programs at John Wood Community College and Quincy University -- an important next step to what QAVTC offers.
"It does no good as you leave here as a senior if there's no place to take the skills you learned here," Hummel said. "Most of our high school students will go from this experience onto a community college or a four-year college. That's our goal for them."