By Joel Hall
The three offices of Clayton County Head Start gathered in Forest Park to celebrate the diverse cultural backgrounds of their student bodies, and to prepare many of the students to enter kindergarten.
Hundreds and parents and students enrolled at the Riverdale Center, Phillips Center, and South Avenue Head Start offices gathered in Forest Park for its 2008 International Day Celebration. The gathering took place on Friday morning on the grounds of the South Avenue Head Start office, located behind Starr Park.
As done every year, the day's festivities started with a parade featuring the hundreds of students enrolled in Head Start around the county. The students waved flags, wore clothing, and sang songs native to the 20 different countries represented by the students.
Students representing Niger beat drums and wore traditional African clothing, while students marching under the flag of Haiti wore scary red masks. Students representing Taiwan waved Chinese fans and wore Mandarin-collar dresses, while those representing Australia wore Aussie-style khaki pants and safari hats, under the shade of the Union Jack.
Head Start Director Eme Nsuk said that this year's celebration has drawn greater interest from the community and that more parents and community sponsors were involved.
Every year, "they go and tell the story and the next year, people want to participate," said Nsuk.
After the parade, sponsors from throughout metro Atlanta provided entertainment, health screenings, and safety information for students and their parents. New sponsors this year included 105.3 FM el Patrón radio station; BlazeSports -- which provides sports activities for disabled athletes; Girl Scouts; Clayton County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and West Georgia Dental -- which conducted free dental screenings.
Returning sponsors included: Chick-fil-A; the Forest Park Fire Department; Amerigroup Community Care, and Arts Clayton.
This year, Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell came to offer words to students and their parents. "We come together from different places, different countries, and speak in different tongues, but in Clayton County, we are one," Bell said to the audience.
Charles Grant, executive director of Clayton County Community Services, which oversees Head Start, said he appreciated this year's increased community participation.
"Each year, they are giving us more and more support, and that's what we need to survive," said Grant.