Aug. 23 was a day of firsts for children and teachers alike on Fort McPherson, as the 2010 Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS) pre-kindergarten (pre-k) class kicked off its new school year.

The school year will be based on formulas that have proven successful over the years in transforming children into outstanding citizens, said Victoria Barrera, pre-k teacher.

"We want to give them the best experience possible," said Barrera.

Barrera said throughout the year, she and her assistant teachers, Aja Toms and Alma Carriker, will be working with children to develop them both academically and socially.

Academically, Barrera said the children will learn the curriculum set forth by the Georgia Board of Education, learning numbers, letters and their corresponding sounds and colors.

Learning these lessons before starting kindergarten is important because the expectations for children in school have increased, Barrera said. Children are reading earlier, she added, noting some children are reading right out of pre-k.

However, perhaps more important than academics is learning proper social interaction with other kids, Barrera said.

"They need to know right and wrong, what is proper and overall respect," she said. "It's important to instill these characteristics early on to create honest and good citizens."

The proper time to instill these values is now, Barrera said, because at this age, kids "are like a sponge."

"The older they get it decreases how fast they pick things up. Right now, they take in everything," she said.

Learning is designed to be done in a fun atmosphere, mainly through play and socialization with classmates, to help aid the process, Barrera said. In this sense, children will be learning from each other in addition to their teachers, she added.

Guidelines for interaction are illustrated using the example of a bucket, Barrera said. Each child is like a bucket that needs to be filled.

Positive behavior fills the bucket, while negative behavior takes water out of the bucket.

Carriker, who has been working for about 12 years in various CYSS functions, said part of her job is making sure she motivates the children to reach the set standards.

Motivation and trust, she said, come from using the proper tone of voice, giving good guidance, and showing the children care, sincerity and love.

It also helps her and other teachers to have a little bit of kid inside themselves, she added.

"When you reach (deeper) levels of trust, there is a big difference" of how kids are receptive to lessons taught, Carriker said Repetition and reinforcement of the positives helps cement the lessons as well, said Barrera, adding the class will also take advantage of programs offered throughout the post, utilizing existing infrastructure, such as playgrounds and trails for nature walks.

Carriker said she has high expectations for this year and that all the teaching staff members have different things to offer to the children.

"I'm glad to be part of this team. I'm truly blessed," she said.