Photo courtesy of Methow Valley Head Start
Kids in Head Start are introduced to reading and math, and also have time for physical activities and play.

By Marcy Stamper

Methow Valley Head Start, the free preschool program that prepares kids for kindergarten through instruction in vocabulary and math, socialization and physical activities, has expanded to a full day this year — and there are still openings.

Head Start reserves the majority of its slots for children from families in poverty or who have other challenges, but there are also places available for children who don’t meet those federal guidelines. The program in the Methow Valley accommodates up to 18 children from ages 3 to 5.

The local Head Start program — based at Methow Valley Elementary School — received a $234,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education last year, allowing it to expand from four to seven hours, five days a week.

“This is the only full-time program in the county. We’re pretty excited,” said Vicki Good, program director for Head Start/Early Head Start in Okanogan County.

The full-day program will have structured small- and large-group activities, as well as opportunities for kids to pursue things they’re curious about, said Good. Children will also get breakfast, lunch and a snack.

In addition to classroom activities, Head Start assists families with parenting skills, goal-setting, and connecting with social services, said Good.

The Methow’s Early Head Start program is also taking new enrollments for children from birth to age 3, including prenatal mothers. The Early Head Start teacher makes weekly home visits, which focus on parent-child interactions and child development. They also have twice-monthly group activities and field trips for socialization.

“There’s the potential that a child can be enrolled from before they’re born till kindergarten,” said Good.

The expanded Head Start program will have two teachers — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — plus a full-day assistant and two aides who will help in the classroom and on the bus. Head Start teachers Summer Treise and assistant teacher Charlotte Wilson are both returning, as is Early Head Start teacher Jennifer Ellsworth.

Head Start is integrated with the Methow Valley School District’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and the teachers meet weekly with other school staff. Like IB, the Creative Curriculum used in Head Start encourages questioning and exploration and builds activities around children’s interests, said Good.

To be eligible for Head Start, families generally must meet income guidelines based on the federal poverty level. For all six Head Start programs in the county, 55 percent of families must be at or below the poverty line, 35 percent can earn up to 130 percent of the poverty level, and 10 percent have no income cap, said Good. This distribution applies to the entire county, not the individual Head Start programs.

The 2017 poverty level is an annual income of $20,420 for a family of three and $24,600 for a family of four.

People may be facing risks other than income — for example, loss of a home or health issues, said Good. “We strongly encourage everyone to apply. We want to serve the children and families who need us most,” she said.

The expansion of Head Start is one of several initiatives undertaken by the school district after a 2015 assessment found a widespread need for affordable childcare and early childhood education in the Methow Valley.

To apply for Head Start, call 996-2202. For Early Head Start, call 997-0019. Information and applications for both programs are also available through the county office at (509) 826-2466.