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Mini Knights Program Offers Present and Future Knights a Place to Learn

Amelia Pierce

By McKenna Hudson

A line of cars wraps around the front entrance of FHN. The hallway is empty but is quickly filled by a class of childhood development students. They’re there to pick up the ‘babies.’ 

“Oh my goodness, they’re just so smart and fun and funny,” Sara White said. “They’re just such a joy to be around and their excitement when they’re coming in or trying something new is palpable.” 

White has been at North since 2001 and has been the childhood and development teacher for the past 11 years. This is White’s second full year running the Mini Knights program, her first year in 2020 was halted by the COVID pandemic. 

It’s 10:45 a.m. and Adelyn is the first to arrive. She wears an Elsa and Anna dress, and a frown. She hesitates to leave her dad’s side but reluctantly lets go of his hand. 

Behind her is Noah. He waves to his dad on the other side of the glass. 

Dylan arrives next and is all smiles and then Evelyn shows up wearing her Mini Knights shirt, just like White.



Henry arrives wearing his Mini Knights shirt too and is dropped off by his grandparents. Henry’s mom, FHN English teacher Kristen Johnson, takes a trip to visit Henry along with a few familiar seniors. It’s all high fives and giggles from him. 

“I can tell he thinks it’s really cool to see teenagers that he knows and he gets all excited,” Johnson said. “Or he’ll tell everybody ‘I’m a Knight now, I’m a Knight now.’ So, he definitely likes the activities that they do and he has two good friends, Jack and Olivia, that he likes to hang out with.”

Henry poses for a photo with Jack and Olivia who also sport Mini Knights shirts. FHN English teacher Jordyn Kiel, Jack and Olivia’s mom, will later post said photo on her Instagram story.

Wearing their Mini Knights t-shirts, Jack, Olivia and Henry pose for a photo taken by FHN English teacher Kristen Johnson, Henry’s mom. (Credit to McKenna Hudson)

Lydia is next and walks over to junior Gabby Budde, her walking buddy. Next to Gabby, White holds Nash’s hand as they prepare to walk down the hall and to the preschool area. The group wonders where Jack-Jack (Not to be confused with Jack, Olivia’s brother) is. 

“Ok, clap your hands if you’re ready for fun!” White exclaims. All the kids clap their hands. The journey down the hall begins, Henry and junior Reese Dannegger walk down the hall backwards, impressing a few North students in the halls. 

Each day of Mini Knights begins with parents dropping off their kids at the front entrance at 10:45 a.m. and picking them up around 1:15 p.m. The program lasts from fourth hour to sixth hour Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. White acts as the overseer during preschool while the students act as teachers, facilitating lessons and interacting with the children, aged 3 to 5. The lessons are aimed to help teach the children different kindergarten readiness skills like verbal communication, reading readiness, self-control skills and many more. Each activity is curated to help develop the skills needed before the children go off to school. 

Today is Friday and the Friday crew is ready to start their day. When signing up for Mini Knights, parents have the option to send their kids all four days or they can go on specific days like Monday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday. 



The group enters the preschool area located across from White’s classroom. The room features a play kitchen as well as a tent and reading area. Dylan starts to play with a dollhouse on the rug. He later pulls a receipt off the back of his shirt. White reads the receipt and says it’s an order for a chicken nugget happy meal at McDonalds.

A knock is heard at the door and Jack-Jack bursts in a few minutes late. Henry’s face lights up when he sees his friend and they quickly hurry off to the reading area. Standing by the area, White sends Kiel a photo of Jack and Olivia doing a puzzle and expresses how well they’re doing. 

“Last week, [Jack and Olivia] saw me when they got to North and freaked out in the worst way,” Kiel explained. “They clung to my legs, did all the screamy stuff and they had to pull them off of my body. And then they continued to scream their faces off for an hour afterward, which I think says a lot about the persistence and patience of the students and teachers working with them.”

To combat this issue, White, a friend of Kiel’s outside of school, decided to pay Kiel and her kids a visit after the incident to make Jack and Olivia more comfortable with White and being in the program. White hopes her tactics will pay off during today’s Mini Knights session and they will have a more enjoyable day. 

While Jack and Olivia do the puzzle, Jack-Jack and Henry have their own conversation. 

Jack-Jack: My mom was a baby and she was in my tummy.

Henry: Boys don’t have babies.

Jack-Jack: I do.

Nearby on the carpet, Lydia exclaims how happy she is to be at Mini Knights and shows off her newly painted toes and fingernails which are a dark purple. Dylan plays with animals on the rug, specifically three emperor penguins. Across the room, Henry, Olivia and Jack all hangout in the “Housekeeping Center” with the kitchen station. They pretend to eat plastic hot dogs and prepare food for Reese. 



After the feast in the kitchen area, a crowd emerges at the seed-planting activity, Jack-Jack, Dylan, Olivia, Jack and Henry all gather. The activity consists of planting seeds in a little container and creating a fun label. This activity works on developing fine-motor skills and writing skills. So, while the children are practicing, the high schoolers are learning how to emulate correct behavior to the Mini Knights. 

“Now, there are obviously times that I have to step in and model how to handle a certain situation but for the most part, the teenagers are the teachers and I’m the overseer,” White said.

“We spend time learning how to read children’s books out loud in a way that’s engaging and fun, we work on better understanding the kindergarten readiness skills and what the difference between fine and gross motor skills are and how to talk to children, getting down on their level, making eye contact, using appropriate word choice, making sure that we’re keeping conversations that shouldn’t happen away from the little people.”

High schoolers involved in Mini Knights make games and activities for the children that are aimed to help develop some of the fine and gross motor skills needed. However, the seed activity that has engrossed the children is White’s idea, perfect for the upcoming Mothers Day celebration. 



Reese and Lupe take Nash to the bathroom. 

The bell rings and the high school helpers go off to fifth hour.



Nash returns from the bathroom with a dry head.

Everyone in the room cheers. 

Earlier that week, Nash had dunked his head in the toilet. 

Sam, a high school helper, takes a child count, all 12 are present. 

“Safety is one of my number one concerns in life,” White said. “I’m making sure that the toys are safe, the space is safe, I’m constantly counting the number of children that are in the room to make sure we didn’t have one sneak out. I care very very much about people being safe.”

After the child count is taken, Sam leads a spelling activity with Noah, Lydia and Evelyn where they try to spell words like ‘dog’ or ‘cat’. Evelyn attempts to pronounce the word t-o-o-t-h while the group spells words like sat, oat and rat; rat is particularly funny to Evelyn.

Across the room, Reese leads Olivia, Jack and Henry in some exercises; 10 jumps, 10 bird flaps, 10 dog barks; a gross motor-skills activity. Henry then starts to shed some tears; he wants to go back to his grandma’s house because he misses his two brothers and sister. White consoles him and Jack and Olivia give him a huge bear hug. The tears are soon gone.



Tracy Wurtenberg, an English teacher at North, stops in to say hello to the kids. She shows Henry, Olivia and Jack a plastic donut and pretends it’s a seashell. Henry isn’t buying it and claims “a donut is not a seashell.” 

Next to the Wurtenberg, Lydia realizes she forgot to bring her backpack to Mini Knights and is afraid her cut up drawing she made earlier will not be saved. White gets a bag for her to take home. Lydia sighs with relief. 

Someone yells CHICKEN from across the room. 



The bell rings for the high school helpers to leave for sixth hour. 

Noah, Olivia, Henry and Jack take turns brushing each other’s hair with a wooden toy mop while Michaela, a high school helper, supervises. They then proceed to attack Michaela’s hair with the toys. White explains how the toys they are using are not being used appropriately and could hurt Michaela so she advises they clean the area and use the toys appropriately. 

Michaela is one of the 45 high school students helping with Mini Knights. Students wanting to participate in the Mini Knights program need to complete Child Development I before they can join in the fun. Junior Torie Montgomery is one of the many students involved in the Mini Knights program. 

“I plan to be a teacher when I’m older and so being able to work with kids of different ages is really helpful and I also work really well with learning to use positive reinforcements and to stay away from the word no and work on different ways to correct behavior without the word no.”

White announces it’s almost snack time.



The kids sing the Clean Up song as they prepare for reading and snack time and then they gather on the carpet. Lydia and Nash return from a bathroom trip, both have dry heads. Sam begins to read “One Tree” to the group, a skill they learned in child development. Some children continue to play, others take a quick nap and others listen attentively. 

While reading goes on, White sets out 12 napkins, cups, fruit snacks and Goldfish for the kids. Avni takes a turn reading “One Tree” to the class with some assistance, especially with words like ‘flower’ and ‘food’. Once Avni’s done reading, a round of applause ensues and it’s time for snack. 

After sanitizing their hands, the kids all take seats at the various tables in the room for snack time. “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson plays in the background. Dylan makes a comment to Henry that he’s never sat by him before, Dylan likes sitting by Henry. 

Senior Chad Blanke arrives.



Henry: “Can I have some more Goldfish?”

Chad: “More Goldfish what?”

Henry: “More Goldfish Goldfish.”

Chad: “More Goldfish please?”

Henry: “Saying please would take a while.”

Chad laughs.

Evelyn, Chad, Jack, Dylan, Noah and Henry partake in an activity on the rug, an activity that causes Henry to fall over. (Credit to Mckenna )

Henry: “Can I have some more Goldfish please.”

Chad: “Yes you can Henry.”



Snack time winds down. Chad leads Evelyn, Jack, Dylan, Noah and Henry in an activity on the rainbow rug. The rug is ordered in stripes of purple, blue, green, orange and red. Chad instructs them all to jump to one color and then sees if they can put one foot in blue and orange, a task that causes Henry to fall over. Chad instructs them to go to blue but Noah is adamant that the purple square is blue. When asked what letter ‘orange’ starts with, Henry insists it starts with ‘P’. 

“Whether they play in the block area or they do dancing or practicing motor skills, I think [Henry] can tell people are excited and want to share [their excitement] with him because I feel like that’s super important and he’s just so excited and proud to be [in Mini Knights],” Johnson said. 

At 12:43, junior Summer Neiner leads a coloring activity while Avni reads quietly in the corner, two skills needed for kindergarten: creative arts and reading readiness. The Frozen soundtrack is turned on and it begins with “Frozen Heart” followed by “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” 

Adelyn gives Chad her best grumpy face. 



Despite wearing her Elsa and Anna dress, Adelyn is unamused by White’s attempts to sing-along to “Love is An Open Door.” “Let It Go” plays after and Adelyn still holds a grumpy face.  She later explains to White that she’s “having a sad day.” 



White announces there are two minutes to clean up, the kids are disappointed. Their fun day of play and learning is about to come to an end. Lydia draws on the whiteboard. Henry, Olivia and Jack make a ruckus with the blocks and White intervenes to stop the commotion. 


White rounds up the Mini Knights. “If you can see me, touch your eyes.” They all touch their eyes. “If you can see me, touch your hair.” They all touch their hair. “If you can see me, touch your ears.” All touch their ears. They begin singing the Clean Up song once again and soon the room is picked up. The kids grab their backpacks and each hold hands with a high school helper. 


As they walk down the hallway, North students watch the little kids with amused looks. Adelyn refuses to wear her backpack and instead drags it down the hall. Gabrielle Weston, the North librarian, says goodbye to the kids as they leave. 


“I think it’s really neat to have young adults see what it looks like to be a little kid,” Weston said. “It’s refreshing to see young kids who are still very much carefree and happy.”



After the goodbye from Weston, all the kids sit on the benches in the front lobby waiting for their parents to pick them up. 

Chad goes outside to the lines of cars and checks each parent to ensure the Mini Knights go home with the correct adult. Avni is the first to leave, her mom comes out to greet her and asks how her day was. Lydia is next and her grandma runs up to embrace her. Lydia has her cut up pieces of paper in hand from her craft earlier that day.

Henry’s grandma picks him up next. Henry is excited to see his two brothers and sister waiting in the car. Behind them, Jack-Jack’s mom picks him up and helps him with his backpack.

Olivia and Jack are next up and are greeted by their mom, Jordyn. The FHN yearbook staff she advises is playing flag football in the field by the parking lot. 

The weather is beautiful – sunny, scattered clouds and 80 degrees.

Dylan leaves next and is followed by Adelyn, she finally smiles when she sees her dad. Nash waits next with his Spider-Man backpack on. He is excited to see his dad pull up in his pickup truck. His dad says he looks like he’s ready for summer with his disheveled hair and smiley-face slides. 

The kids will all see each other again next Friday for another day of play. Everyone involved in the program will get something out of it, from a fun craft to invaluable life skills of working with children. 

“We learn so much more from doing than from being told,” White said. “So, providing a structure where it’s child directed and they’re able to literally walk into our preschool and choose which activity looks like the right choice for them for that day. Developmentally, that’s what they’re ready for.”

At 1:15, Diyora is the last to leave for the day and as the car drives away, White steps back inside with the rest of the helpers. They debrief on the day’s events, each student recounting a specific moment that made them smile. From Dylan’s receipt to Adelyn’s grumpy face to Chad’s carpet exercise, each leaves with a certain memory that teaches a lesson, one that will stay with them until class next week and far beyond..