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Friday, July 29, 2016

Head Start applications sought

Friday, June 24, 2011

By Mark Stalcup Portia Hockman, Head Start director for Greene and Sullivan counties, readies for the start of a new year as she reviews applications and contacts parents on her computer. [Order this photo]
Summer's here, and the time is right for parents of preschoolers to apply for Head Start.

"We are always taking applications year round," said Portia Hockman, director for Greene and Sullivan counties. "But they need to apply as soon as possible. Yesterday would have been nice."

There's no cost for the program, though participants must meet specific income requirements targeted at helping lower-income families.

Linton's program can be contacted at 847-7687, while Eastern Greene's program can be contacted via PACE Community Action Agency, which oversees the two programs, at 847-2237.

Applications are also available on-line at www.pacecaa.org .

The free program allows children age 3 to 5 the chance to learn skills needed to prepare them for elementary school.

"Once a child is kindergarten age, we cannot take them into the program," Hockman said.

Classes commence Aug. 29 and are completed April 27, 2012.

Number and letter recognition, socialization, science and literacy are among the subjects, and all the program's teachers have early childhood education degrees.

The program does in-depth screenings which gauge a child's medical and dental needs, which are then followed up, Hockman said.

Screenings also determine where the child is presently at for learning skills and socialization. While social skills were previously emphasized, now learning skills are paramount, Hockman said.

Linton hosts two Head Start programs, a morning session from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. where participants are served breakfast and lunch; and an afternoon session from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. where attendees receive lunch and a snack.

Linton's programs have the capacity to host 32 students -- 16 in each session.

"We may have 32 accepted, but as school starts, people decide not to do it, or move away."

Eastern Greene, meanwhile, offers a single daily session from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with a maximum of 16 students.

A waiting list's almost always in place, but placements aren't simply based on when a family signs up. Instead, there is a points-based system where a variety of factors determine who gets in first.

"Someone may apply in July and someone who applies in August may get in ahead of them," Hockman said, based upon the points system, which takes into account whether the child lives with a single parent, if they have special needs or are at risk.

Head Start also offers home-based appointments when parents cannot manage daily transportation to the two county Head Start programs.

During the sessions, staffers meet one-on-one with parents for 90 minutes each week, "essentially teaching the parent how to work with their child."

The home-based Head Start students are then brought by parents to twice-monthly socialization sessions on Fridays at the center as a way to teach them socialization skills.

"The parent is the child's first teacher," Hockman said. "These are truly one-on-one sessions."

Presently, 11 county children are served by the home-based program.

Family fun nights are also scheduled during classes, with parents voting on the best evening for the programs.

"These are fun activities which involve the parent with the child, and also do something educational. We try to slip that in," Hockman said. "It's a family program. It is for the whole family, for educating the children and getting them ready to attend school."

Ultimately, Head Start could expand to include early childhood learning programs which target newborns to 3-year-olds. Hockman oversaw one of those programs in Knox County for just over a year.

"It is amazing what little babies can learn. They pick up on every little thing around them, like a piece of clay," Hockman said.

However, federal funding is key in making that happen.

"That's really up to the federal government," she said. "President Obama is a big supporter of Head Start, so thankfully, we didn't get any cuts this year. We didn't get any increase to keep up with the increased cost of living, but we didn't get any cuts, and for that we feel blessed."

Linton's Head Start classes are held its facility just north of the Linton Public Library. Eastern's are held in Eastern Greene Elementary School, while Sullivan's classes have relocated to Carlisle Elementary School as of this year.

Dugger children who are on the border of the two counties can choose to attend programs in either, Hockman said.

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