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Head Start kids celebrate diversity at annual International Day festival

Photo by Jim Massara
A Head Start kid from the Brookwood Center’s Classroom C representing Jamaica prepares for his guitar solo.

Photo by Jim Massara A Head Start kid from the Brookwood Center’s Classroom C representing Jamaica prepares for his guitar solo.

Decked out in the colorful garb of 20 different countries, Clayton County’s Head Start kids celebrated their diverse backgrounds — and the end of the school year — at their International Day celebration Friday morning in Forest Park.

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Photo by Jim Massara Head Start kids from Classroom H, supervised by Theresa Mensah (left) and Annie Dawson, studied Ghana.

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Photo by Jim Massara Georgia Jones-Smith and Gary Johnson manage the two Head Start centers in Clayton County.

About 350 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten-age children marched in a parade in the parking lot at Head Start’s South Avenue headquarters. Activities later spilled over into adjacent Starr Park, where the children enjoyed the sunny weather and traded nuggets of culture from countries like Jamaica, China, Singapore and Haiti.

Children from Twana Harris’ class, for example, which adopted France as its country, had learned a little French. Kathy Ponder’s class — their country was Australia — got into the act, too: After some parental coaxing, Erin Levin managed to say, “G’day, mate.”

Community groups with displays at the event included the Forest Park Fire Department, the Clayton County Board of Health and the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, whose K-9 unit gave a demonstration for the kids.

The celebration was also a way to thank volunteers, parents and staff, said Eme Isok-Nsuk, Head Start director for Clayton County Community Services Authority.

“It’s a big event every year,” said Isok-Nsuk, who expanded it in 2005 to better serve the county’s growing immigrant population.

“This has been the best yet,” said Georgia Jones-Smith, manager of Head Start’s Brookwood facility in Rex. “You can tell by the turnout. The parents are excited as well.”

Head Start provides educational, health and nutritional support for low-income children and their families, funded by the U.S. government and augmented by the state government and local partners including Amerigroup, Zoom Dental, Clayton State University’s School of Nursing, Arts Clayton, and others.