By Andrea McCann
Washington Head Start students and staff celebrated Head Start Awareness Month Thursday by sharing “Music From Around the World” with their families and several guests.
In groups, the 3- to 5-year-olds studied Mexico, Africa, China and Russia, learning some of the languages and music, and studying the animals, weather and other information about the countries. On Thursday, they demonstrated what they learned to each other and their invited guests.
“The children made passports,” said Site Manager Pam Padgett. She explained the teachers coordinated “country” visits Thursday morning in which students from each classroom, or “country,” visited the other “countries” and got a sticker in their passports for each place visited.
Local restaurants donated food, so the host “country” treated its visitors to a taste of cuisine representative of that country, as well.
In the afternoon, for their invited guests, the students performed songs from the countries they studied and gave a drum presentation. Mayor Joe Wellman proclaimed October Head Start Awareness Month and presented the center’s staff with a framed copy of the proclamation, which outlines some achievements of the center in its 47 years of service to the community’s children.
Currently, 90 children attend Head Start Monday through Thursday during the typical school year. Fridays are teacher planning days.
“School readiness is our main focus,” Padgett said. “We want children leaving Head Start ready for kindergarten.”
An advisory committee collaborated with school officials to create school readiness goals. Using Indiana’s state standards for public schools, Head Start teachers create lesson plans for their classrooms to meet those goals. In addition, they prepare individual plans for each student based on screenings done when the student enters Head Start. This enables teachers to catch an issue such as a speech problem, make referrals and help parents get their children on the right track for success in school.
“We have so much parent involvement here, and that’s what Head Start is about,” said Bertha Proctor, Head Start director and CEO at PACE Community Action Agency, which operates Head Start.
She said getting parents involved early is key to getting kids better prepared for a successful experience in the school system. It also helps prepare the parents for their child’s school experience.
Both Proctor and Padgett cannot stress enough the importance of early childhood education. They explained that children’s brains absorb a lot of things as they grow and learn — things they remember for life. Even with babies, Padgett said, simple things such as bonding, making eye contact, teaching them to clap, and reading to them is critical to their development.
“School readiness begins from the youngest baby,” she said.
To that end, along with its school-readiness program for 3- to 5-year-olds, Head Start offers a home-based early childhood program for newborn children to those 3 years of age. Padgett said that program, which runs year round, has 25 families enrolled at the present time.
In Early Head Start, a staff member visits weekly for an hour and a half with each enrolled parent to set, and help them meet, goals. The home visitor provides an educational piece for the parent every week and ensures family stability by helping them find assistance, such as food stamps, if needed.
Twice a month, for four hours each time, the Early Head Start families come to the center for socialization and child development education.
“It becomes a support group for them,” Padgett said.
“What makes Head Start so different is that we’re so connected to the families.”
That commitment to family is an important key to their students’ future success because obstacles at home can become hurdles that affect children’s learning. The Washington Head Start Center offers a resource lending library, computer time, language assistance with Rosetta Stone, a parent resource room and much more for parents.
Padgett said a fatherhood initiative is in the works and she hopes that a group for fathers will be available by the first of the year.
Head Start services are free to qualifying families, who are enrolled on a needs basis. A point system is used to determine which children are at the greatest risk. Poverty, age and disabilities are some of the issues that place children at higher risk.
“We have a lengthy waiting list,” Padgett said. “It’s not first-come, first served. Truly, the child with the most needs is placed at the top of the list.”