Head Start program provides educational boost for young kids

Kevin Hotary | January 09, 2012 | Education Process; Head Start; Community Action; Pre-school; Colchester; TVCCA; TEAM

Numerous studies have shown that beginning the education process as early as possible helps lay the groundwork for the future success of children academically, socially - and in later life - economically, with increased average incomes. However, for many families, particularly those with limited incomes, typical preschools are out of the question, with costs averaging several thousand dollars per year.

Referring to preschool as no longer being a luxury, Shelly Flynn, the early childhood coordinator for the Collaborative for Colchester's Children, said, “It’s a necessity for the success of kids as they enter into kindergarten. They need that educational foundation,” she said. According to Flynn, in the 2005-2006 school year, about 55 percent of Colchester kindergartners had attended preschool.

“One of our goals with C3 was to increase that number significantly,” Flynn said. And recent numbers show that they have been successful, with about 90 percent of kindergartners having attended preschool as of last year, she said. Part of that success stems from a school readiness grant, which provides preschool services for 21 children. But there was still a need for more low-cost preschool.

The federally-funded Head Start program was launched originally in 1965 as a means to help economically-disadvantaged kids get a jump-start on their education by providing low- or no-cost preschool. Two years ago, the Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA) partnered its Head Start program with the Colchester school system, providing free preschool educational programs for 19 low-income families at Colchester Elementary School. Head Start provides staffing and materials, and Colchester provides the space.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have this wonderful relationship with Colchester Elementary,” said Ami Talento, family services manager of the TVCCA. The Head Start program at CES focuses on many different aspects of learning, she said, “from math, to social studies, to language, to the social development of the kids.” All are focused on getting the kids ready for kindergarten.

“Ideally, we’ll start when somebody is first pregnant, giving them services and connecting them with resources about their baby-to-be,” Talento said. This is followed by an early Head Start program from birth to age 3, and then the preschool until age 5. By then, the kids “already know it’s a supportive environment,” and are eager to begin school.

“The kids really blossom in these classes,” which follow a strict curriculum and take advantage of the latest technologies, said Talento.

Running from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., the day starts with a family-style breakfast, where the kids serve themselves and eat together, “connecting with their peers and the staff,” said Talento.

“They do it all,” said Heather Main, the head teacher in the classroom, the staff for which also includes an assistant teacher, a nutritional aide and a family advocate. The rest of the morning is then spent on activities that can be both fun and educational, from using the class Smartboard or computers, to talking about rhyming. Learning centers, set up for various purposes around the room, are also open for children to learn about specific topics, said Main. After lunch - which is also provided by the program - the children end the day with music and movement.

Families play an important role in the success of the Head Start program. Every month, Main sends out the curriculum to parents, so that they can bring in materials relevant to that months theme. “We’re very big on parent involvement,” said Main. “We love to have them here.”

“The family is the primary educator of the child. That’s always been the Head Start philosophy,” added Talento. In addition to visiting and volunteering in the classroom, parents can take part in the Policy Council and in various workshops, and can also meet with the family advocate to help connect families with other resources available throughout the community.

Colchester Elementary School Principal Jackie Somberg said that having the Head Start program at CES is “great for so many reasons.” Kids become familiar with their future school and learn early what is expected of them in school through interacting with other students and staff. Before the establishment of the program at CES, a number of families were driving to Norwich to send their kids to Head Start.

“How much better that they can go to school in their own community. This is their school, and now they are part of it,” said Somberg, who believes strongly in the value of starting the educational process early.

“The academic bar has gone up. Kids benefit tremendously if they come to school knowing simple things like, what’s the difference between a letter and a number, and by developing an interest in reading and in books, which is what they get in preschool,” Somberg said.

Families interested in more information about the age and income requirements for the Colchester Head Start program and enrollment procedures can call Community Outreach Director Bonnie Craig at TVCCA at 860-425-6515 or call the main TVCCA office at 860-425-6519.

Hotary, Kevin. Reminder News. "Head Start program provides educational boost for young kids". January 9, 2012.

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