Getting a Head Start

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 1:37 p.m.
They can recognize words, solve addition problems and pinpoint shapes, and they aren't even in kindergarten yet.
These are some of the skills children learn by participating in the Alachua County Head Start Program, which is accepting applications for the 2006-2007 school year.
The organization is a federally funded program that focuses on increasing school readiness of young children in low-income families.
Head Start is divided into two different programs, said Melissa Rantz, family service liaison. One program, Early Head Start, is for children 0 to 3 years old and the other, Head Start, is for students 3 to 5.
"This is an awesome program to give poor children the opportunity to compete against those that are more affluent in kindergarten," said Ellie Chisholm, preschool manager for Prairie View Elementary.
Unlike most preschools, Head Start is located on the same campus as an elementary school, and it follows the same school hours, said Michelle King, family service liaison.
Several schools throughout the city participate in the program. These include Rawlings Elementary, Shell Elementary, Terwilliger Elementary, Newberry Elementary, Alachua Elementary, High Springs Community, Irby Elementary, Archer Community, Waldo Community and The Fearnside Family Services Center, King said.
Parents can register their children at one of the "mass registrations" scheduled at the Fearnside Family Services Center, 3600 NE 15th St., from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, again on Feb. 22-23, April 12-13 and May 17-18. In addition, applications also are accepted every Wednesday at Fearnside.
When completing an application, parents are required to bring several documents. These include the child's birth certificate, Social Security card, medical insurance card, shot records and proof of physical examination. The parent's proof of income from 2005, a picture ID, guardianship documents and two different proofs of address also are required.
To participate in the Head Start program for children 3 to 5 years old, students must be 3 years old by Sept. 1.
The application process and enrollment are both free, King said.
Head Start uses classroom exercises and lessons that focus on federally appointed guidelines, said Ann Crowell, director of the Head Start program.
In these lessons, reading and language development are the top focus. They also concentrate on mathematics, science and creative arts.
Head Start classes consist of 18 or fewer students, said Doris Tenah, teacher specialist for the program at Prairie View Academy. There also are two adults in the classroom at all times.
Unlike most schools, where the involvement of the parent stops once the student enters the classroom, schools housing Head Start programs expect active participation from all parents.
This involvement takes place during discussions, twice a day, when picking up and dropping off students. Parents also attend several meetings throughout the school year.
Head Start believes that parents are the first and most important teacher in a child's life, and that the teacher and parent need to act as a team to prepare the student for kindergarten, Crowell said.
Another unique characteristic of the program is that it addresses the child and the whole family, said Carolyn Whitehurst, education coordinator for the participating schools.
Each Head Start family has a service liasion that works with them to improve their physical and mental health and nutrition at no cost, Tennah said.
The program is even creating a support group for parents of students.
"Children don't come with directions, and parents want to help their children have a better life," said Crowell. "Education is key."
Though registration continues until June, Crowell said it is a good idea to register your child before then, adding that parents who apply sooner get first preference in the location they'd like their child to attend.
The Head Start program was created by the federal government 40 years ago, and it has been in Alachua County for 39 years.
Locally, there are 800 children ages 0 to 5 participating in Head Start.
For more information, call (352) 955-6875.

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