By Diane Glidewell
A new program began for some of Butts County's smallest citizens on Monday.
The McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council, Inc., which oversees the Butts County Head Start as well as the programs in Henry, Lamar, Newton, Pike, Upson and Spalding counties, has received a grant for an Early Head Start program to serve children from birth to 36 months. The current Head Start serves children ages 3 to 5.
The Early Head Start program is primarily for infants and toddlers from low-income households, with the goal of enhancing their physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development. The Early Head Start in Jackson will include two classrooms of eight children each. An open house for children and parents to visit the new classes was held on Friday, May 14.
The class for birth-12 months is located at Loftin Learning Center on Stark Road, and the class for those 12 to 36 months is in the existing Head Start building, at 565 Recreation Drive. Both classes are under the direction of Butts County Head Start Center Manager Beverly Morgan.
The classes are made possible through a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, also known as the stimulus act. Elaine Brown, of the McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council, was successful in a grant application which is providing Early Head Start for Butts, Spalding, Upson, and Henry counties. She had to apply for the program funds in competition with other programs, nationally. Brown said the local program was one of only six applications from Georgia selected.
Writing the grant application involved explaining why the program was needed, what exactly was planned, and the designs for the classrooms and programs. In addition to the 16 slots in Butts County for Early Head Start, there are 24 slots in Henry County, 32 slots in Spalding County, and 16 slots in Upson County under the grant to the council. The grant is currently through September, at which time application will be made for an additional year.
"We hope the funding will then become permanent," said Brown.
Early Head Start classes will operate year round instead of following the school year like other Head Start classes. The schedule for Early Head Start classes will be from 7:30 a.m., to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The program also serves expectant mothers, helping them to be healthy and teaching them about child development.
Teachers in the new Early Head Start classes received in-depth training in the weeks preceding the opening of the classes. Candice Fleming and Latrice Taylor will share the classroom responsibilities for the 12- to 36-month-old children, and Susan Crankshaw and Felicia Robinson will be teaching those under 12 months old.
"We expect really good things," said Crankshaw. "Everything is brand new, and we have an environment conducive to learning."
The Early Head Start toddlers room is across the hall from the pre-kindergarten class, but all of the furnishings, toys, and other items in the class are just the right size for these small students. They have their own restroom and their own playground right outside of the class, and they will have their meals and snacks in the classroom.
"Research has proven that children learn more during their first five years than any other time in their lives," said Morgan. "Getting them from 0 to 5 will make them excel."
Admission to the program is based on income, whether the child has a disability, whether the mother is a teen, homelessness, and dependency on someone other than parents for support. This information is entered into a computer program to generate a point system to determine eligibility. Currently, all slots are filled, but there is a waiting list and applications may be obtained at the Butts County Head Start office.
The goal of Early Head Start, like the goal of Head Start, is to serve the needs of the family as a whole as well as the needs of the child, and help parents to move toward self-sufficiency and to fulfill their parental roles.