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Head Start is designed to help break the cycle of poverty by meeting the social, emotional, health, nutritional, and psychological needs of preschool children of low-income families. Families must meet income guidelines established by the federal government. The guidelines are updated annually and are equal to the federal poverty rate.
The overall goal of Head Start is to bring about a greater degree of social competence in the preschool children enrolled in the program. Social competence refers to the child’s everyday effectiveness in dealing with both his or her present environment and later responsibilities in school and life.
Currently, the BCIU Head Start program serves 695 children in 40 classrooms located at 17 sites.
Children ages 3-5 attend classes approximately four hours per day, four days a week during the school year. In addition, we have three classes that provide services to children in the afternoon at the Oley Center, the Reading Muhlenberg Center, and the Blue Marsh Center. These sites serve also as hands-on experience for high school students enrolled in Berks Career and Technology Center’s Occupational Child Development programs.
Head Start’s educational program is designed to meet each child’s needs. The program also aims to meet the needs of the community and its ethnic and cultural characteristics.
Every child receives a variety of learning experiences to foster his or her intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Children participate in indoor and outdoor play and are introduced to the concepts of words and numbers. Head Start staff members encourage them to express their feelings, develop self-confidence, and get along with others.
Staff members receive training in child development and early childhood education. Head Start also provides advancement opportunities and additional training to all staff in all program areas.
Parents are the most important influence on a child’s development. An essential part of the Head Start program is the involvement of parents in parent education, program planning, and other operating activities. Many parents serve as members of Head Start’s policy council and have a voice in administrative and managerial decisions.
After receiving clearances, parents may also volunteer in the classroom. Parents receive preference for employment in Head Start positions for which they are qualified and are helped to secure employment in other fields of work.
Head Start’s social services component helps families assess their needs and provides services that allow them to build on their strengths to help them meet those needs.
Some of the activities social services staff use to assist Head Start families are:
- Community outreach
- Family needs assessments
- Instruction in how to obtain and use available community resources
- Recruitment and enrollment of children
Head Start emphasizes the importance of identifying a child’s health problems early. Since many preschool children of low-income families have never seen a doctor or dentist, Head Start arranges for every child to receive, if needed, comprehensive health care, including medical, dental, mental health, and nutrition services.
Children receive vision and hearing screenings. Follow-up is provided for identified problems.
In addition, a mental health professional is available to provide mental health services to children and to train staff and parents to help them identify when a child may need help with a problem.
Children receive two well-balanced meals during the day.
Mental Health Screening
Head Start has always recognized that ensuring the healthy development of children includes attention to their mental health. As with physical health, Head Start’s primary strategy is to prevent problems by reducing risks and encouraging healthy habits. And, when mental health services are needed, Head Start helps children and their families receive them.
A congressional mandate ensures that at least 10 percent of Head Start’s enrollment is available for children with disabilities. A child with a disability often can learn more readily in a group with other children than in separate groups for the disabled.
Children with disabilities and their families receive the full range of Head Start developmental services. In addition, Head Start staff members work closely with community agencies to provide services to meet the special needs of these children.
Head Start’s Family and Community Partnership component also networks with community partners, including local colleges, area social service agencies, health care providers, and businesses in the public and private sector.
In order to help children keep the developmental gains they have achieved via Head Start, as well as to build upon those gains as they continue their education, Head Start uses several effective transition practices. These practices support successful transitions for children and their families from previous child care programs into Head Start and from Head Start into elementary school or other child care settings.
contact: Mandy Gerhard, Program Administrator – 610-987-8453- firstname.lastname@example.org