Head Start programs looking for more kids
Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press
Officials have launched an enrollment campaign aimed at filling hundreds of empty seats in federally funded early childhood programs in Detroit.
The Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which promote school readiness for young children from low-income families, are at about 70% to 75% capacity across the city.
It’s not unusual for enrollment to dip in the summer and spike in the fall. But with changes to how the programs are run and some sites being shuffled around, there is an extra push to educate parents about what services are available.
They include infant and toddler care, full- and half-day preschool and even prenatal classes for expectant mothers — all at no charge.
“The more services a child can get during the critical brain development years from birth to 3, and the more services the family can get, the greater the benefit is for them over the long term,” said Donna Cielma, senior director of early childhood and school-based services for Southwest Solutions, a Head Start provider.
Early Head Start is for children from birth to age 3, as well as expectant and new moms. Head Start provides preschool and other services for 3- and 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds until they start kindergarten.
More than 60 sites in the city offer the programs.
There is funding for 3,778 Head Start and 1,149 Early Head Start seats in Detroit, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Most of them are part of Birth-to-Five, a new pilot program launched last year that expanded programming for infants and toddlers. Four Detroit nonprofit agencies were picked to receive $48 million in funding over five years.
In Detroit, there has been a roughly 200% jump in the number of spaces available specifically for infants and toddlers — and by some estimates, only half of those are filled.
So workers and volunteers have been knocking on doors, holding enrollment events and leaving flyers at grocery stores and doctors’ offices.
They’ve also revamped a website — www.detroitheadstart.com — where parents can register.
Head Start and Early Head Start in Detroit have undergone major changes in recent years. The city itself is no longer involved in the programs, and Detroit Public Schools is no longer a provider, though it does currently lease space in its buildings to agencies that run the programs.
Head Start and Early Head Start programming can take place at a center or in a child’s home.
The preschool classes for older children feature reading and math lessons that are part of a curriculum approved by federal Head Start officials. Teachers also help the students develop social skills and teach them basic life skills, like the importance of brushing their teeth.
At a Head Start and Early Head Start site on Detroit’s west side, small groups have been canvassing neighborhoods twice a week trying to recruit parents and children.
“We have an issue with the literacy rate here, so I don’t like just leaving flyers at the door. We make face-to-face contact,” said Waymond Hayes, program director for early learning at the Focus: HOPE Center for Children on Oakman Boulevard.
Hayes is a strong pitchman: He attended Head Start as a child.
The Center for Children has two new playgrounds, a gymnasium and 13 brightly lit classrooms filled with colorful posters and educational toys. A quiet room with lavender-painted walls is designed especially for breastfeeding moms.
Picking up 4-year-old Camren Gollman on a recent afternoon, Danielle Marcus, 28, said her son has shown remarkable growth in just three months.
“When he first started, my son didn’t know how to write his name,” she said. “Now he recognizes his numbers and letters, and he’s able to write his name. It’s a great program.”
For more information about Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Detroit, visit www.detroitheadstart.com.