Studies have shown that children who attend early childhood development centers –– i.e. preschool and daycare –– tend to be better equipped socially and intellectually once they start kindergarten, as opposed to children who do not. And not surprisingly, children who come from households with lower incomes have the least amount of access to these resources, placing them at a disadvantage amongst their peers in the classroom. However, income-based programs like Kent County’s Head Start
allow families who qualify to enroll their children in preschool free of charge.
As part of their ongoing mission to serve as many kids as possible, Head Start received a grant allowing them to open two more locations — on Leonard St. NE and Alger St. SE — for the 2019-2020 school year. Prior to this, they also assisted toddlers and infants ages zero to five via home visits. With the new grant, one of their newly opened sites contains classrooms reserved specifically for those infants and toddlers, in addition to the preschoolers.
Head Start Executive Director MaDonna Price says initially, they were making home visits to a combined 97 infants and toddlers.
“We have now increased that number to 119, but the exciting part was that we were able to place 36 children in a center-based infant and toddler section.”
Additionally, the grant has allowed the preschool to extend some of their classrooms from half-days to full-days, and create an overall lengthier school year –– an initiative Head Start has been trying to implement for the last five years. The four sites that have been extended will be in session from August 21 until June 7, whereas the other six sites are from September 5 until May 22.
“Prior to this, there were 210 children who were only receiving the half-day preschool model, that now are receiving full days,” says Price. “So an additional 210 children are now in full-day preschool instead of half-day preschool, and before, we had 27 percent of our children in the extended year of 388 children, and now 698 children are going into the extended year.”
Of the 12 different sites, there are only three classrooms that still hold half-day preschool. The need for half-day classes still exists, but is much lower than the latter. The overall goal instead, Price says, is to have 100 percent of their classrooms extended through the year and to have each of their sites serve infants and toddlers, in addition to the preschoolers.
Price says the grant allowed them to write in the startup funds necessary for supplying the classrooms, but that their greatest challenge is a shortage of staff. Although the Alger street location is currently open and operating, the Leonard building is actively trying to fill positions.
“We recognize families who are at a disadvantage, whether it be because their child has special needs, or sometimes it’s hard to find [preschools] to be affordable or even available,” says Price. “So it is our mission that we provide services to families who are in need in the community, and that we provide a very comprisable and holistic program.”
Photos courtesy of Head Start for Kent County