Low income families offered free early childhood education

Paul Boerger
Mount Shasta Headstart head teacher Valerie O’Brien interacts with the children at the Mount Shasta center. The finely tuned program weaves education into all activities.

There is a program in Siskiyou County, and in every state of the Union, that offers finely tuned early childhood education for low income families at no cost that includes partnerships with parents and an emphasis on learning with engaging, fun activities. It’s called Headstart and enrollment is now open for children from birth to five years old for the fall school year.

Carla Clark is the Headstart executive director for Shasta, Trinity and Siskiyou Counties. With 28 years Headstart experience, Clark says the program is intended to “level the playing field” for children from low income families.

“Too many children in our society don’t have the same opportunities. Children born into low income families are often not exposed to as many words, books and opportunities,” Clark said. “It’s not a level playing field. Headstart seeks to level the playing field.”

Headstart offers three centers in Siskiyou County, in Mount Shasta, Yreka and at College of the Siskiyous in Weed.

The Mount Shasta and Yreka program are half day and the COS program, intended for COS students, includes the half day teaching program and after school day care.

The program is available for financially challenged families that fall within the 130 percent federal poverty level. Examples of approximate maximum eligible income for household size are below:

• Two persons, $1,681

• Three persons, $2,116

• Four persons, $2,552

There is no cost to qualifying families and the program does not accept paying customers. Bus transportation is provided in certain locations. There is often a waiting list, so parents are encouraged to apply for the fall semester. Call 918-2550, visit your local center, or go to www.shastaheadstart.org to apply.

Anne Marie Mero is the area manager for Siskiyou County, having begun with Headstart when she was in high school as a Regional Occupational Program worker and she says parents are a very important part of Headstart.

“Parents are very empowered,” Mero said. “They are invited to participate in policy making, curriculum and volunteering in the classroom.”

Clark echoes Mero’s comments.

“We have a well developed parent component. Parents are the most important teacher,” Clark said. “We seek to make a partnership with a strong emphasis on culture and language. If a child has a language other than English, we will find someone to interact with the child and family.”

Although very targeted, a look at a daily teaching schedule shows the program’s creativity. Busy Fingers offers counting, Milk Moustache teaches nutrition, and Paper Plate Dance is physical education.

“The curriculum is woven into everything,” Clark said.

Headstart is not just about the traditional subjects. Equally important are social skills, emotional well being, competence, empathy and positive parent child relationships.

Although Headstart offers a finely tuned curriculum, Mero said there is plenty of room for creativity in the classroom.

“Our teachers are given the freedom to use their individual skills,” Mero said. “They bring to the classroom their interests and life experiences.”

In addition to the classroom experience, Headstart offers a home based program that includes a curriculum, teacher home visits once a week, and a twice a month playgroup in Weed.

The first Headstart class began in 1965 as part of president Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. In 2012, approximately 1.1 million children were served by Headstart. UC Irvine reported in a 2014 study that Headstart “was effective in the areas of early math, early literacy and receptive vocabulary for all children.”

The Mount Shasta center is located at 710 Everett Memorial Highway. In Weed, the center is on the COS campus; and the Yreka facility is located at 1273 S. Main Street.