By Marcy Stamper
The 18 pre-school students who attend Methow Valley Head Start will now have a full-day program, essentially adding another grade level before kindergarten, Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable announced last week.
The longer day — going from four to seven hours — is made possible by a $234,000 grant to the Okanogan County Child Development Association (OCCDA) from the U.S. Department of Education, which will become part of the ongoing grant for the program, according to Vicki Good, OCCDA’s interim program director.
This will be the only full-day Head Start in the county, although OCCDA hopes to obtain funding to extend the program in other areas, said Good.
The Head Start program includes language development, vocabulary and literacy development, math segments, cognitive learning, and development of fine and gross motor skills, said Good. Research shows that children with more sophisticated language skills and a larger vocabulary are better prepared to succeed in school, said Good.
Head Start also works with families so that the benefits go beyond the child, she said.
With the longer day, there will be nap time and additional outdoor play, said Katharine Bill, the district’s early childhood education and child care coordinator. Bill will work closely with Good and the Head Start teachers to plan the expansion.
Along with the rest of the teachers in the school district, the Head Start teachers have been developing International Baccalaureate (IB) units this year. The IB framework meshes well with the curriculum used in Head Start, which encourages questioning and exploration and builds activities around children’s interests, said Good.
The school district and Head Start administrators haven’t determined how they will extend the program — whether they will increase the hours of the current four teachers and paraeducators, or whether they will hire additional staff for the afternoon, said Venable.
To be eligible for Head Start, families generally must meet income guidelines based on the federal poverty level. The program also serves people who face other risk factors such as homelessness, said Good. The Head Start program is required to maintain a waiting list so that any spots that open can be filled promptly.
Most children in Head Start are between the ages of 3 and 5. They have a classroom at Methow Valley Elementary School.
The grant will not enable the program to add additional spots, but the school district intends to continue working with other providers of day care and early childhood education in the valley to find a way to serve more families, said Venable.
An assessment of early childhood education and child care options in 2014 found a significant gap in the capacity of existing formal day care and preschool facilities to meet families’ needs. Depending on the time of day, between 45 and 70 percent of children were not accommodated by existing programs.
The school district’s other programs to help with after-school child care and enrichment have been evolving as coordinators learn more about participants’ needs and interests.
The after-school program, which started this fall, now has 25 students from kindergarten through sixth grade under lead instructor Bo Thrasher. The program averages 12 students on most days, said Bill. Kids spend half of their time outdoors and half indoors doing art projects or playing games.
They hope to add homework help twice a week for fifth- and sixth-grade students, with a focus on math and science.
The Cub Club after-school enrichment program has expanded with a second art club, now with spaces for 30 children each week.
Fall programs in Asian cooking and the horse club are wrapping up soon. In January, skate club (for kindergarten through grade 6), ski club (grades 1 and 2) and an earth club (grades 4 to 6) begin. Registration forms have been sent home with students and are also available at the elementary school.
Community members interested in volunteering to help kids in the afterschool program with homework should contact Bill at 341-4210 or firstname.lastname@example.org.