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Ohio Head Start Programs Go Beyond 'ABCs and 123s'

PHOTO: Children in Head Start program. Courtesy Clinton County Community Action Program.
PHOTO: Children in Head Start program. Courtesy Clinton County Community Action Program.
October 3, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Head Start programs in Ohio are going beyond the ABCs and 123s to give young children the best possible start in life as well as in their schooling.

October is Head Start Awareness Month - and for decades, many community action agencies in Ohio have been running Head Start programs.

At Northwestern Ohio Community Action, Head Start director Janet Yaros says her agency assists children and families both inside and outside the classroom.

"Children are not just getting education. They're getting health services, dental, physical, nutrition services - anything that the parent would need - social services, disabilities, mental health services."

As Head Start director with Clinton County Community Action, Carol Erdman says the program builds a strong foundation for a child's education. She adds that they also can help identify children who may have special needs and would benefit from early intervention.

"We immediately get hold of public schools and work in conjunction with them to get all the help that they need, to hopefully start them on the road to success, regardless of what their special need is."

Head Start is a federally funded program for low-income children from birth to age 5 that began in 1965. In Ohio, more than 47,000 children were enrolled in 2011.

Jessica Hurst, assistant Head Start director for Akron Summit Community Action, says parents play an important role by continuing the learning at home. She says her agency offers a variety of options to accommodate families' needs.

"We have part-day preschool option; we have full-day for families that are working and going to school, as well as early Head Start, working primarily with the children zero to 3; as well as a home-based option."

According to the National Head Start Association, children in the program are significantly more likely to complete high school and attend college than are their siblings who did not attend. That's why Erdman and others say it's critical to keep Head Start programs strong.

"We need to keep that in place and not jeopardize it. We always have a waiting list, but this year we have a waiting list of 40 or 50 kids - and we can't serve 'em. I need money to expand my program so that I can serve more children."

About 70 percent of Head Start programs are run by community action agencies.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH