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Our Head Start teacher Sy uses acting experience to engage students

Keeping young children engaged in education while learning from home can be challenging but CCRC Head Start teachers like Sy Hearn are using creative, innovative ways to keep students dialed in.

After working as an actor for many years, Sy began educating children in 2011 as a teacher’s assistant.

He started taking classes in child development and as he grew more familiar with teaching strategies and how he could use these skills to help children learn, he became confident that he wanted to teach.

Sy earned a B.A. in science from CalState Dominguez, received his teaching certificate, and is now working on a Master’s in education through CalState L.A.

Even though he traded in acting for teaching about a decade ago, Sy said he still uses the skills and methods he learned as an actor in his work as a teacher.

“For me, when I’m in front of the children, they’re like an audience,” Sy said. “I can gauge emotional needs and interaction with my performance. Acting involves a lot of communication, so I have to learn to communicate with the kids. That depends on listening, asking them questions, and showing them how to build character and confidence.”

Sy said he keeps his students engaged through group activities and by using humor when he teaches.

One learning activity Sy remembers having a strong positive impact on the students was when he turned off the lights in the classroom and used a flashlight to pretend they were in the jungle. He pretended to be on safari as he pointed out animals and qualities of the environment.

“Children really take to imagination,” Sy said. “I can imagine and pretend with them.”

Sy starts each lesson with a 1-minute meditation. In addition to injecting creativity and humor into his lessons, Sy is conscious about incorporating parents into the lesson plan.

Over a one-on-one Zoom lesson, Sy may instruct a student on using a pencil to write their name or other vocabulary words. While the student is practicing the skill, Sy helps the parent understand how best to encourage and support their child in this learning experience. Unlike traditional school, he said the lesson isn’t about getting the assignment exactly right, rather the attempt, confidence, and consistency.

“We’re planting the seeds and watering them, they will grow and blossom on their own time,” Sy said.

When his students come together for a large group Zoom meeting, Sy presents activities that allow the children to interact.

“The children haven’t been able to socialize or do regular childhood behaviors so it’s nice to engage kids and they like interacting with their classmates,” Sy said.

The Los Angeles native channels creativity in his lessons any way possible, using sock puppets, song and dance, and movies to keep his students interested.

Though he only speaks English, Sy said he’s been successful teaching students who primarily speak other languages by using Google Translate and other tools. By the end of the session, these students often become proficient in English.

CCRC Head Start and Early Head Start is now enrolling children ages 0-5. Click here to learn more.

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