CHAMPLIN, Minn. -- Karen Johnson points to a calendar at the front of the classroom as her preschool students call out the numbers for each day.
High school students surround the group, observing the preschoolers just as closely as they watch the teacher. The high schoolers are part of Lori Brumbaugh's Child Related Occupations class at Champlin Park High School.
"Here at Champlin Park, we have the utopia of learning about careers with children," explained Brumbaugh.
In fact, the entire district can claim that distinction because each of the district's five high schools has a preschool right on campus.
At Champlin Park, the preschool has its own drop off area for parents, so the younger kids don't have to wade through crowded high school hallways, but their classroom is very much a part of the larger school.
The goal is to give high school students a living lab where they not only observe younger children, they also get hands on experience.
"They create activities, they get to do mini-teaching lessons, and they really get an understanding, is this what I want to do in my life," said Brumbaugh.
Her students may go on to pediatric medicine, teaching, psychology and other fields that relate to children.
Senior Michael Sales is playing an imaginary game of pet store with some young customers eager to buy products for their stuffed animals. It's hard to tell who is having more fun, Sales, or the preschoolers.
He's considering a career as an elementary school art teacher or maybe a child psychologist who uses art with his clients. Sales believes the preschool gives him a leg up on his plans.
"You get this experience in college, but we get it in our own high school, which is a benefit for us," he said.
"It's one thing to learn in a class," said Champlin Park principal Mike George, "it's another thing to be able to experience it and interact with it."
George believes so strongly in the benefits of the program, he's enrolled his own son, Rhys, in the preschool.
George sees the preschool as a stepping stone for the young students. "They have a chance to really come and interact with high school kids and be a part of our high school before they actually even attend here," he said.
The community relationship is important. Brumbaugh says she has former students who have gone on to become paraprofessionals in the district. She also has students who are now parents, who have enrolled their own children in the preschool.
Molly Calkins is one of them. Her daughter, Meya, happily paints as Calkins helps out as a parent volunteer.
"It's really nice to think that it benefits her, and it benefits the high school students, so it's nice to know that she's a part of that," Calkins said.
Brumbaugh beams when she talks about how it all works together. To her, it's more than a class she's teaching, it's a passion.
"We collaborate and we coordinate and we're a community that cares about our children," said Brumbaugh.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)