Old MacDonald had a farm, EE I EE I OH.

These are the lyrics that become vocalized every Tuesday morning when Michael Barrett ’07 carols to five pre-kindergarten children from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Every year, approximately 135 Fairfield students spend several hours each week at the Action for Bridgeport Community Development’s Head Start program (ABCD), helping to teach hundreds of young children how to read, write, sing, draw and socialize.

“One of the things that students say when they first begin with Head Start is that all they’re doing is playing with children,” said Judith Primavera, the project director and psychology instructor specializing in child learning and literacy. “But the thing that helps preschoolers advance with their language and cognitive skills the most is exposure from an adult talking and playing with them.”

Even though some students are required to spend time at a Head Start site to fulfill their Developmental Psychology lab obligation, it gives students a real world, hands on experience.

“By volunteering for Head Start, it’s made me more passionate about psychology,” said Barrett on a recent weekday after working with the children. “It’s taught me to appreciate the little things in life such as the child viewpoint on how everything in the world is amazing.”

The experience goes beyond the classroom as students are able to practice their parenting skills for the future.

“We learned about the development of children by a book from class and when you see the children, you’re able to properly interact with them,” said Danielle Corciullo ’07. “It helps you build confidence in your parenting skills.”

For many students, it also gives them a taste of what the developmental psychology field is like without having to wait for an internship during their later years at Fairfield.

“The only real way to experience what psychology is all about is if you actually work with people because a textbook can’t tell you everything,” Barrett said. “It is indescribable to see a kid understand the difference between a square and a circle. The feeling is extremely rewarding.”

Each classroom has various areas which are designed to focus on improving certain cognitive skills. An example is the “Pretend and Learn Center” which contains toys such as the plastic kitchen toys that help immerse the children in role playing activities.

“I like the pretend and learn,” said four year old Francesca, labeling it her favorite area. “And my name starts with the letter F.”

According to Hector Burgos, the site manager of the Jamie A. Hulley center, there are 165 children at that one site alone. About 1,000 children participate in the ABCD-Head Start program altogether. Unfortunately, Burgos says that there are close to 2,000 Bridgeport children who don’t have Pre-K because of the lack of space in preschools.

Volunteering for Head Start does not necessarily require the donation of time. Fairfield faculty, who are constrained on time, to give away books, toys, computers and other material objects.

In babysitting, the babysitter is asked to watch a handful of children which allows for more individualized attention towards each child. That is not the case at Head Start because students are often interacting with five times the number of children.

“With Head Start, you are thrown right into the middle of a classroom with 20 little, adorable, energetic wild kids,” said Brian Lynch, a sophomore with babysitting experience. “You’re not going to have much time to get to know each one of them but you try your best to make each kid feel like they’re part of the group.”

Students often feel hesitant about volunteering for Head Start because they don’t know what to expect.

“Some students will come into Head Start all ready to go while others initially hold back,” says Burgos. “But as long as they come in with an open heart and an open mind, they’ll do fine.”

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