Helping Hands Preschool, operated inside of Wilton High School, takes a unique approach to early childcare. The preschool fosters community values with its children by integrating them with the surrounding high school. The added factor is the WHS students enrolled in child development classes are trained to act as student teachers for the kids, providing extra, one-on-one support.

“WHS child development students enrolled in the course provide additional sets of eyes and hands to support our children’s learning and play,” Helping Hands program director and teacher Kristina Soderholm said. “Our children have formed incredible bonds with our high school students over the years and it is so amazing to see the two age groups come together.”

Brandon Tegano, a physical education teacher at Middlebrook Middle School, has seen his two children grow at Helping Hands, and the student teachers were a point of praise. He noted that they put in extra work to come in early and welcome the kids at morning dropoff as well as stay behind with them after class ended.

“I have so much gratitude towards the high school students who really treated all of the little kids like their little brothers and sisters, They really got it down on their level and made them feel like the biggest person in the room.”

Within the classroom, the preschool’s students go through typical preschool activities like circle time, arts and crafts, free play, and early education instruction in animals, colors, and letters. 

Outside the classroom, Helping Hands has access to the high school facility for animal visits from WHS animal science courses and pottery tools from the art rooms. After the pandemic hit in March 2020, the preschool supplemented students’ education remotely with Zooms and at-home assignments, adapting to finish out the school year despite the circumstances.

Tegano used to describe his son, a recent graduate of Helping Hands, as “the kind of child who would hide behind your back, and not really want to talk to people once you introduce them.” After two years at the preschool, he had a new sense of confidence about him. “He was comfortable in his own skin,” Tegano said.

General shyness was a trait that Soderholm increasingly noticed in new students post-COVID. Many parents had shared with her that their kids could not experience much socialization before Helping Hands due to the pandemic, and much of the preschool’s curriculum had to be altered to place more emphasis on early social skills.

“The beautiful thing about children is their resilience,” Soderholm said. “After a few weeks of settling in, you could not tell the difference between our post-COVID kids and our pre-COVID ones. It was a beautiful thing to see how quickly they were all able to bounce back after such a major societal event.”

According to Tegano, Helping Hands keeps its parents well-informed throughout the school year. Alongside pictures and videos of the kids at play, all parents receive weekly newsletters describing the past week’s activities as well as what students would have to look forward to in the coming week.

“I can’t tell you how great it felt to see pictures and videos of what our children were doing when we were at work. I mean, everything was documented,” Tegano said. “They were over the top of informative with everything that took place — I could not give a higher grade for the communication that they had with the families. I can’t give them a better review.”

Parents who are interested in learning more about the program or enrolling children ages 3-5 in Helping Hands for the 2023-24 school year can email Soderholm. The class is capped at 12 students and will be led by Soderholm and another certified teacher alongside Wilton High School’s child development students.