Helping children to succeedThe staff of the Head Start/Early Childhood Center greeted the children with open arms when they arrived on Monday — the first day the center-based Early Head Start Program began in Dickinson.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
The staff of the Head Start/Early Childhood Center greeted the children with open arms when they arrived on Monday — the first day the center-based Early Head Start Program began in Dickinson.
“Our teachers said they were exhausted, but they were all smiling and are here today — I’d say that’s a success,” Head Start/Early Childhood Center Director Sharon Hansen said.
After a few tears and moments of anxiety, the children have settled into routines where they explore learning centers and join in group activities with their friends.
Early Head Start is designed for infants to age 3, when children move to the Head Start program in an adjacent building.
“We stress high quality care, but also provide educational services for young children and their families,” Hansen said. “We want the families to be able to support their child’s development.”
Single mom Veronica Franco registered her daughter, Hailey, 10 months, for the program.
“I’ve been waiting and waiting for it to open,” she said. “I like it because there is a curriculum schedule. It’s been two days and I’m loving it already.”
Franco, who works as a teacher’s assistant for the Head Start program, said Early Head Start will allow her to pursue her own education goals.
The Community Action Partnership Agency, which operates Head Start in the eight-county region, was awarded a $1.17 million federal grant to begin Early Head Start. Funds came as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
“I’ve been waiting for this program for years,” Hansen said. “This program was extremely competitive to get into our area. When these funds were made available in 2009, one program in every state was to receive the Early Head Start funding.”
She remembers the September weekend in 2009 when she got the phone call, saying the region was selected to get the grant for North Dakota.
“I felt I won the lottery — it’s been a culmination of a lot of hard work,” she said.
Construction on the more than 10,000-square-foot building began in June 2011.
Hansen said the grant was written with the intent of renting and renovating a facility.
“Then out of the blue, I got a phone call from the national Head Start office, saying it had extra funding for a new center — we jumped up and down,” she said.
“Instead of renovation, we built in the back yard to support our vision of a birth-to age 5-center,” she said. “We’re able to share our management team, we’re able to support one another.”
The funding provided for home-based services, as well as center-based services five days per week in Dickinson. The home-based services, including home visits and socialization opportunities, have been ongoing since June of 2010, she said.
The Early Head Start program has space for seven classrooms. It opened with three classrooms, where the ratio is one teacher to four children. Two assistants support the teachers.
A fourth classroom is preparing to open as soon as qualified staff can be hired, Hansen said.
Early Head Start services are free to qualified parents, based on income guidelines. For example, the income guidelines for a family of two is $19,743, and three is $24,910.
“How challenging is it to live in town like Dickinson where child care is juggled between Grandma and friends,” she said.
Research shows the longer a child has a Head Start experience, the better his outcomes will be in the classroom, she said.
“If we have a child from birth until he enters kindergarten, that’s where it makes a difference,” she said. “What parent doesn’t want a child to succeed.
The grant provided funding to pay for more half the cost of the building. The remainder is being financed with mortgage payments through ongoing federal grants, she said.
“Families may bring their children here only if they are working 30 hours or more or going to school,” Hansen said. “We have a lot of single young parents who have been dreaming of going back to school or a job, but didn’t have the resources even to begin.”
Early Head Start is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The children are separated by age — the infant room, waddler room and toddler room.
The curriculums are age-appropriate and the children remain in their rooms for meals.
“We set up materials that stimulate the children, depending on the ages of their development,” Hansen said.
Kinsey Buchholz, a teacher in the infant room, said they feed the babies, change them, give them naps and create developmentally appropriate activities, such as sitting or crawling.
“We’re really excited to finally get kids in here and the environment is awesome,” she said.
Autumn Wiseman, a teacher in the waddler room, described the center as a breath of fresh air.
“We’re here for the parents, we’re here for the community,” Wiseman said. “I love it because we’re supporting the parents and making a foundation for the kids.”
Cheryl Kostelecky, a teacher in the toddler room, helps write lesson plans for the children.
“Today we’re making Play-Doh, which is a little more hands-on,” she said. “We have lesson plans for social, emotional, fine and large motor skills. My son was in Head Start and I know the impact of this when they get older.”
Hansen said parents are welcome to visit any time.
“We are thrilled when they want to come into the classroom and to share what they know about their child,” she added.
Head Start for ages 3 through 5 has an enrollment of 152 children. Another 72 are registered in Early Head Start — either home-based or center-based.
“We could open a fourth classroom next month,” she said. “The biggest challenge is finding qualified staff. You can’t just walk in off the street.”
Hansen believes the Early Head Start Center is meeting a need in Dickinson.
“We’re hoping to fill that spot in the community for families who have the most difficulty finding high quality child care and education that fits their needs,” Hansen said.
Families interested in knowing if they qualify for home-based and center-based Early Head Start, may call the center at 701-227-3010 for an appointment.