Helping hands: Stonewall Jackson High aids in filling preschool need

Sara Sine, 4, walks around a circle with her classmates in the preschool class at Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

QUICKSBURG – After Shenandoah County Public Schools changed attendance boundary lines this year, it became evident that an additional preschool classroom was needed at the southern campus.

It turned out that two preschool classrooms at Ashby Lee Elementary School were not enough to house all of the preschoolers, so Stonewall Jackson High School Principal Mike Dorman came to the rescue, offering space at the high school.

Sherri Fainter, early childhood special education teacher, moved in along with 16 preschoolers. Her classroom is inclusive – it includes children with special needs or disabilities.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “You see that the children really respond to the children that have more obvious disabilities and they come up alongside of them and help and care for them and it’s really a neat thing to see.”

The 4- and-5-year-old students follow a schedule that includes learning the calendar, weather, spelling, sounds and shapes through story time and plenty of physical activity.

Sherri Fainter, an early childhood special education teacher, leads a lesson for preschoolers in her classroom at Stonewall Jackson High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

She said the kids learn language skills and social emotional skills to prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.

Fainter said keeping the kids physically active is important to her as it provides physical, mental and emotional benefits.

“I really believe in play and movement,” she said.

She doesn’t like to have the kids sitting at chairs all day because they will have plenty of that in the years to come at school.

“Right now their bodies need to be moving and developing those kinds of muscles,” she said.

From left, Brianna Dove, 5, Colton Tawloski, 4, and Easton Bruce, 4, use their hands as they sing a song during preschool. Rich Cooley/Daily

She added that children who don’t play don’t have core and hand strength, and that can make them fidgety.

The preschool also has a new playground at the high school to encourage more physical activity.

Fainter said she walks the kids over to Ashby Lee Elementary School occasionally and uses the school’s art, music and computer rooms.

Outdoor time, she noted, is extremely important to her because she doesn’t want the kids cooped up in a classroom all day without fresh air and sunlight.

Gray days don’t deter their trips outdoors – she is looking for donations or grants to purchase supplies such as rain boots to take the kids outside when it rains.

High school child care student Tabitha Silvious, 18, plays with Brody Richman, 4, inside the playground area for the preschool class outside Stonewall Jackson High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

English is not the only language spoken in her classroom. The preschoolers are learning English language skills, but are also receiving a dual language background.

“We have little children who start out with no English and by the end of the year they are speaking in two languages,” she said. “And the other students are learning a second language as well.”

She said this year she has three children who speak primarily Spanish and two children with a dual language background.

Fainter also teaches her students American Sign Language.

In order to teach these skills, she uses different media, including art supplies, blocks, sand and books.

Amanda Escalante-Bravo, left, and Luz Perez Cortes, right, both 4, play in the sand with teacher Sherri Fainter, Rich Cooley/Daily

While she does use technology in the classroom, such as tablets with kid activity programs downloaded onto them, she said she limits screen time.

Teaching preschool kids can be an exhausting job, she said.

“This is the hardest job I’ve ever done,” she said. “But it’s also the most creative and rewarding job.”

She said she also uses the benefits of operating a preschool out of a high school by having the high school’s child care class students come into the preschool and work with the kids on literacy, writing and hygiene.

Fainter also works with a middle school teacher at the track to develop motor skills through outside activities.

Luz Prez Cortes, 4, works on an iPad with teacher Sherri Fainter. Rich Cooley/Daily

In the future, she said she would like to find other ways of interacting with the high school students, such as using the greenhouse.

There is a list of kids in Shenandoah County waiting to get into a preschool program, she said. “We’re filling a need in the community.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or