Getting a head start on schoolProgram serves children from low-income families
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
At Head Start, children ages 3 to 5 learn as much during lunch as they do in the classroom.
They set the tables with disposable silverware and plates and put nametags at each spot so children will know where to sit.
After hand-washing, children settle in their chairs. In unison, they say a “peace wish” for “all the children in the world.”
They are taught to be polite, say please and thank you and “please pass the green beans,” to the person closest to the bowl.
Conversation should be pleasant during lunch, they are taught as they learn to pass dishes to each other because food is served family style.
“We have lots of spills,” said Evelyn Grant, classroom teacher for the full-day program.
But none of the teachers and paraprofessionals rush in to clean up.
Children are shown where paper towels are and learn to blot up milk spills by themselves and throw away the towels.
When parents visit during lunchtime, they are surprised to see their children eating food they refuse at home, said Kishwar Bayunus, supervisor at Newport Head Start, a federally funded program located in Newport United Methodist Church.
Children are encouraged to eat new food but are not forced to do so. They also take plates and silverware to the trash, wipe down tables and sweep the floor.
There is a lot of competition for floor sweeping, Bayunus said, adding that parents are often surprised at how eager their children are to help with chores.
One of the tenets of Head Start, a free program for children in low-income families, is to make children self-sufficient. Though not all children can tie their shoes, it’s encouraged. In the winter, extra time is needed because children sometimes struggle to zip their own jackets.
There is a full-day program and half-day program in Head Start, and this summer, because of extra federal funding, there is a full-time summer program.
When Grant, who lives in Lindstrom, took a teaching job at Head Start, she marveled that there were so many minority students, something uncommon in Lindstrom.
“It’s so neat,” she said. “This is the way the world is.”
Joyce Kulla, supervisor of education programs for Head Start for Anoka and Washington counties, said staff members reflect the minority population in Head Start as well.
Because of the diversity, children are learning to speak Spanish, Arabic, Urdu (spoken in India) and American Sign Language, Kulla said.
Children write their names every day even if they can only make one or two letters. Most children learn the letters by age 4, Grant said.
Students are not told they are making wrong letters or scribbling.
“We acknowledge what they say or write even if it’s wrong,” Grant said.
Letters and sounds are part of the daily curriculum, according to Grant. With encouragement, children learn them.
They also learn a lot from each other, Bayunus said. They are role models for other children and helping each other is fostered.
Children at Head Start learn a lot of what they will encounter when they got to public school. They learn to take turns, listen to teachers, line up, listen to each other and raise their hands to speak.
“We’re making children, even those who are shy, comfortable about going to kindergarten,” Kulla said.
Children’s dentists set up at the Newport site and treat children, at no cost to parents.
Children are taught about nutrition, one of the main components of Head Start when it began in 1964, and parents are encouraged to participate in classrooms and on field trips.
There is a parent meeting once a month and a supper is served at no cost at evening events. Parents can also get help with housing and free clothing and items at the Stone Soup Thrift Shop.
The program partners with School District 833 for services if students have special needs.
For information about Head Start and how to qualify, go to www.accap.org, or call the Anoka County Head Start Administrative Office at (763) 783-4300.