The federal Head Start program offered in New Albany helps many children and their families, employees say.
Registration for the next school year, which begins in August, is underway now. Currently, there are about 100 children enrolled in Head Start in New Albany. The center can handle up to 127 children at its facility located at 507 Oak St.
The children receive many services at Head Start, including a physical, and screenings for dental, vision and mental health. The screenings can help spot issues such as developmental delays. If a child is having trouble with speech, he or she may be referred to speech therapy. It may be determined that a child has other issues such as ADHD or autism.
Leona Dozier, Head Start teacher, and Deloise Nesbit, family community worker, have each worked at Head Start in New Albany about 30 years.
The goal of the program is to give the children a head start in life so they will be successful, said Dozier. Head Start also works with the school systems and specialists to help meet the needs of children.
The program is for children ages 3 and 4 and runs from August until June and is closed during the summer. The children learn socialization and the program teaches them language and motor skills as well, said Nesbit. The children are presented with a certificate upon completion from Head Start.
Dozier said Head Start, which is free to families who qualify, is important because not all parents can afford to pay for early childhood programs. Whether someone qualifies for Head Start is based on income, said Nesbit.
There are seven teachers and seven teacher aides at the New Albany Head Start, and the children seem to enjoy the program, employees say. Some of the children jump out of the car because they are so ready to start the day, Nesbit said.
“We’ve got a beautiful staff,” said Dozier.
Dozier said it is a good program because the children learn so much. For instance, a child may start the program and not know different shapes. But by the end of the school year they know colors, shapes, numbers and the alphabet, she added. This helps give the children a head start when they enter kindergarten.
While the Head Start program teaches the children many skills, the parent is really the first educator, said Dozier.
“That’s something we try to stress,” she said.
The parents have to reinforce what Head Start teaches, she noted. Dozier said the socialization aspect of the program is also beneficial especially for children who have been under the care of a mom or grandmother. Getting around other children their age helps them as well. It’s their first school setting, Nesbit said.
This way when they get to kindergarten it is not such a shock when they have to leave mom because they have already adjusted, Dozier said.
“Head Start is a very good program,” she noted.
Students in Head Start are also provided bus transportation that picks them up at home. The students are at Head Start from around 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are provided breakfast, lunch and a snack.
There is a big difference in children after they have been through a year of Head Start, the employees said. When the children come into Head Start for the first time they may be shy and timid, said Head Start Clerk Polly Peterson. The children’s social and emotional skills really take off during the year.
“That’s a tremendous change,” said Dozier. “It’s a lot of development, a lot of changes.”
They learn how to interact with other adults and other children and how to solve problems. Sometimes community workers, such as police officers and firefighters, will come to Head Start to meet with the children.
One of Peterson’s children went through Head Start, and he was shy and timid. At first, it was thought that something might be wrong with her child because he did not talk much.
“Head Start really helped him come out of his shell,” Peterson said, adding that her son is a high school math teacher now.
Dozier’s children also went through Head Start and were successful later in life.
Nesbit works closely with the parents of the Head Start children. The parents are asked what goals they have in life. Some of the parents may not have completed high school, so they may be encouraged to get a GED. Other parents may have the goal of owning a home.
“We try to help them (parents) to be more self sufficient,” said Nesbit.
For instance, she may talk to the parents about taking their child to the dentist or the doctor. “We try to give them more responsibility to do things for their children,” Nesbit said. “It makes them more independent.”
Some children have not seen a dentist by the age of 4, said Peterson. The screenings, such as for sight and hearing, are “very important” when it comes to catching issues at an early age, said Peterson.
“We’re the first ones to catch a child not being able to hear well,” Peterson said.
Nesbit enjoys working at the Head Start, saying she loves “little children” and working with the families. She feels as though she is helping someone.
Dozier said she feels as though God has given every person a purpose.
“I feel like this is my purpose,” she said, adding, “It’s something that I love to do, and I love children. We are family here.”