Sitting in a wing catty-corner from the front office at Desert Vista High School, nestled behind an outdoor play area, Thunder Tykes preschool has catered to children of school staff and other local residents since 1996.

Open as long as Desert Vista, the preschool this year is seeing a flow of changes after the child development program was severed from the school due to low enrollment.

Though most of the other programs at Tempe Union High School District were kept in tact, Thunder Tykes worked essentially as a learning lab for students to work with kids as part of their classroom experience.

“I find it disappointing because this is what I do, and this is what I love,” Thunder Tykes Director Jody Cadwell said. “High school students need some kind of a background in that.”

With the recent change, Cadwell and her teaching aide, along with an intern and a few student volunteers, funding is no longer available to them through the district, and a new curriculum has been introduced.

“In other schools it’s a lab, students come in and work with them, here I do the teaching,” Cadwell said. “It’s definitely more of a preschool.”

Cadwell focuses on providing social and emotional development as well as preparing the 4 and 5 year olds with kindergarten prep like introductions to numbers and letters. Status reports and parent-teacher conferences are also new to the preschool.

In June, Thunder Tykes will be offering a summer academy for any and all parents interested in the area. Also lowering the minimum age to 2 1/2, Cadwell said she is trying out the idea this year to get kids enrolled.

On a regular school day, Cadwell takes care of about 14 children ages 3 to 5. The Thunder Tykes spend their school day playing games, rotating through activity tables, reading, recess, and other preschool-age varieties.

A small kitchen stores food for snacks and lunchtime, they have a small, gated and covered playground, and a technology center with a few computers.

History teacher Michele Lucas said having her son Tanner, 3, at the preschool on campus has been a great experience.

“It’s always been a really good program, I’ve been happy with it,” she said.

A teacher at the school for 13 years, and even longer at the district, Lucas said though the changes to Thunder Tykes brings a loss of opportunity for students to work with children, Cadwell has taken care of the program to keep it going.

“She really built up the program and is making it stronger than it had been before,” Lucas said.

Thunder Tykes Summer Academy is open for enrollment with a $50 registration fee to secure a spot, and a rate of $120 for the academy.

The program will be offered through the month of June, Monday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

For more information about Thunder Tykes or to register, email Cadwell at

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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