Staff does a good job getting the word out

Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 7:20 p.m.

The rain and a crowd that exceeded expectations as far as numbers created a challenge at the Parent Summit Program hosted by Head Start last Wednesday at Rawlings Elementary School.

The Head Start staff expected 500 to attend, but nearly 700 showed up, leaving some people standing inside, with at least 100 waiting outside hoping to get into the school's cafeteria to see the program.

"We did not expect that kind of turnout," said Horace Freeman, a pre-school specialist with Head Start, in an interview after the program. "The tally sheet showed 260-270 parents signed up and we expected about 500."

Freeman said originally plans were made to have the children play outside, but the rain caused a change in plans that resulted in the crowded conditions.

"We were planning a special program for the kids outside," said Freeman, "and bringing the parents inside to listen to the speakers. But with the rain, we had to get the kids inside also."

Roy Wright said he, his wife and their three children waited outside for nearly 30 minutes, hoping to get into the cafeteria to see the program.

"We got there at 5:45 p.m. and there was no parking, so we parked on a grassy area on the curve," said Wright. "We got to the cafeteria and we couldn't get in. There were so many people waiting to get in."

Wright said, "I was very disappointed. My daughter (a Head Start student) was teary-eyed because she couldn't get in to perform with the other children. Someone guided us to the back entrance, but we couldn't get in, so we left."

Alachua County Head Start director Ann Crowell said that in her 26 years with Head Start, last Wednesday's program was the best attended ever. She credited her staff and the children themselves with getting the word out to the Head Start families.

"We got the entire (Head Start) staff to get the message out," said Crowell. "Children are the most powerful messengers, and parents love to hear their children perform." She said it also helped that the program was held at Rawlings Elementary, which is centrally located and next door to the Fearnside Family Services Center, which enabled them to use the parking lots at Rawlings and Fearnside.

Crowell said keynote speaker Dr. Naima Prince also was instrumental in getting people to the summit.

"Her message fits our population," Crowell said.

Jennifer Scott, who brought her three children, said she heard Prince was a good speaker and wanted to hear what she had to say.

"I wanted to hear the keynote speaker," said Scott. "That is what drew me."

"I think we need a bigger facility next time," said Crowell. "The powerful thing is that parents came to support their children."

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