When North Carolina implemented an early childhood education curriculum statewide, Carolina Caddell felt like she had won the jackpot.
Now, a quarter century later, Caddell will retire from the Scotland County Schools at the close of this academic year, signalling the end of what has been known as the “Little Scots” program at Scotland High School.
The Little Scots learning center on the high school campus serves as a laboratory for high school students taking courses in early childhood education. Students learn by doing as they work hands-on with pre-kindergarten aged children. Scotland High School is unique in that the Little Scots attend the program in lieu of a traditional daycare, where in most high school programs in the state, students perform internships in area daycares and pre-kindergarten programs.
“Having them onsite gave them complete control over the program, they were able to be the teachers instead of being assistants to local preschool teachers or daycare centers in the county,” Caddell said. “They were able to do it themselves and be the directors and be the teachers and be the clerks and purchase coordinators. It’s been their program instead of just attaching themselves to somebody’s else’s idea, and that’s what’s been fun: they’ve had so much ownership of their own development and their own growth in learning the skills that they need to pursue early childhood at a college level or professionally.”
The Little Scots program began as a full-year course in 1984, Caddell’s first year teaching at Scotland High School full-time. Between 1982 and 1984, she taught home economics at Scotland High as well as the Occupational Exploration Program at I. Ellis Johnson and Washington Park Middle Schools.
“It was all about exploring different careers and it was a lot of fun,” Caddell said of her first experiences teaching in Scotland County. “We broke it into a little bit of business, a little bit of personal finance, food preparation and nutrition, and childcare. Every Friday I would have someone from the community come in and be a visitor and talk about their careers. We would walk through their career with them and how they got interested and how to get a degree in that area and what level of education they needed.”
When the state first mandated an early childhood education course in public high schools, Caddell found herself the only teacher at the school both enthusiastic and qualified.
“The nine home economics teachers at that time pulled our heads together, and when I found out that early childhood was available, I was elated,” she said. “Where everyone else was running scared, I was running toward it. I felt like that was exactly what God’s plan was for me, because I had always wanted to do that. When I came here and the state made it available as a course - I just felt like I had won the lottery.”
Ever since her first day teaching early childhood education, the Little Scots program has been Caddell’s passion.
“She made that program, she was there from the beginning,” said Alyssa Lowery, formerly a student of Caddell’s. “She is an amazing person - she is really the heart and soul of Scotland High School.”
Lowery, is currently a student at Richmond Community College, and intends to pursue a degree in elementary education.
For the students, Little Scots has not been entirely about Legos, naptime, and the ABC’s.
“A lot of class time is spent on theory and study of childhood development, studying behavior guidance and redirection of behaviors and how children learn, how they process information, how to meet them where they are developmentally,” said Caddell.
“Carolina and the Little Scots program have been a true asset to Scotland High School,” added longtime Scotland family and consumer sciences teacher Donna Faulk. “Students have been trained in the area of childcare and have chosen to become teachers because of their Little Scots experience. Carolina has been a hardworking and dedicated teacher and she and the Little Scots program will be missed.”
One of the chief advantages of Little Scots has been the real-world experience that it provides to high school students.
“When they’re working directly with these children, that’s when they get it, that’s where they learn,” Caddell said. “A high school student looks at you and says ‘Oh, now I get it, now I understand.’ I think sometimes that when I leave and they know that they have that huge responsibility to make sure the children are safe and that they’re focused and that every moment is a teachable moment, and they’re responsible for that and they feel the stress of that, that’s when they learn.”
“I just overall loved kids period before I got into the class, but being in her class showed me that there was more to kids in general than meets the eye and that everything is not going to go the way you want it to,” Lowery said. “You can make schedules all day long but kids can have their own routine sometimes. Mrs. Caddell taught us always to take the time out to gather your own thoughts and feelings - if a child is acting up way too much, it’s really good to take the time to take a deep breath and walk away from the situation, then come back to it and try to defuse the conflict. There are always different ways that you can connect, you just have to find the right one.”
Caddell has watched countless high school students themselves growing and developing through Little Scots and involvement in the Future Homemakers of America. FHA students during Caddell’s tenure have competed nationally in Boston, New Orleans, and Anaheim.
“Without this high school and that strong program, a lot of students would have missed out,” Caddell said. “Those who travelled and those who worked hard at competition are the ones who excelled, who pushed themselves to other levels. That’s the rewarding piece, that’s where it’s all worth it - to see somebody who says ‘One day I’m going to come back to Scotland County, and I’ve got big plans for this community. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that there is this for children and that for teenagers,’ they want to come back and make a difference.”
More than one former early childhood education student has returned in ensuing years to entrust their own preschool children to the instruction of Caddell and her students.
“The Little Scots that I had the very first years, I have their children in Little Scots, so we’re on a second generation,” said Caddell. “Many of my Little Scots have been the children of my students after they became parents years later. They knew this program well, they knew the accelerated academics that their children would acquire here, and that their children would be fully prepared for their pre-k and kindergarten programs.”
Students-turned-parents have learned firsthand the benefits of the program not only to high school students aspiring to work in early childhood education but to the Little Scots themselves.
“My son when he started Little Scots two years ago was kind of shy, but now he goes in there and isn’t worried about mama anymore,” said Lonny Smith. “He’s really grown a lot and has become more independent with that program.”
“For my daughter now, she does an excellent job of teaching them exactly what they need to know and she really takes the time out to have that one-on-one ratio with each child and get to know them personally - every child is different,” Lowery said. “It’s great to actually have my own kid in Little Scots and see how fast she’s grown. Being a single mother, it kind of helps me out because you don’t really have the time that you need to take out to teach your child the basics of what they need to know to get in kindergarten, so that’s helped.”
With Caddell’s retirement in June, early childhood education will now be offered to Scotland High students through Richmond Community College and taught at the Honeycutt Center in Laurinburg.
“She has been nothing but a benefit to me and my son - she taught me a lot about parenting and becoming a better parent,” Smith said. “She deserves a thank you not just for me and my son but for every child she ever taught. She has just been a blessing for everyone because she always went above and beyond to do her job. I hate to see that Little Scots is ending because it really benefited a lot of kids.”
Caddell is as of yet unsure how she will fill her time without teaching future teachers, but her own grandchildren and an abiding love of her and her husband’s alma mater will likely keep things interesting.
“We’re both Appalachian State graduates and I cheered there and it’s home, so we’ll hopefully be doing a lot of mountain trips,” Caddell said. “In the middle of August it’s going to hit me that I don’t have that new routine that keeps me centered, focused, and driven. I’m going to have to find something else to do to keep me going.”
When searching for a reason behind nearly 30 years of passion for the Little Scots program, Caddell refers to a quote of Albert Schweitzer’s: “No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green, which it awakens into existence, needs time to sprout, and it is not always granted to the sower to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith.”
“The sunlight is the teaching of my students and the green is the readiness of the child learning - we just have to give it time and watch them closely because when that readiness kicks in, you’ve got to pick that tomato right them because you can lose that window, even with a child,” Caddell said. “These children will not remember me. They will take what we’ve done, though, and it will create that foundation that they will build on. But the thing is, we don’t worry about that, because all work that is worth anything is done in faith, and that is what it’s all about. That’s what teaching’s about. You just have to have faith that you have made a difference and that that child is going to be better because of you.”