Children get head start on more than education

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Children who grow up in nurturing environments have been proven to lead more productive lives and that is where Head Start comes in.

Mississippi has 22 counties with Head Start programs where 5,944 children are given a chance to succeed in school and life each year, said Mississippi Action for Progress Regional Director Cassandra Jackson.

The Head Start Program was initiated by the federal government in 1965 to provide children of low income families with nutrition, health and educational services, said Dr. Robert Escudero, Pearl River Community College Director of Student Services. Studies have shown that children learn better when their physical and mental needs have been met. Head Start helps children in low income families to develop the emotional and social skills they need to be successful. Children who participate in the Head Start program are less likely to be charged with a crime as opposed to their siblings who do not participate, Escudero said.

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“I think that is one of the most important things you do in Head Start is you teach students to be resilient,” Escudero said.

About 80 MAP staff members, consisting of clerical, teacher, assistant teacher, nutritional specialists and family case workers from Perry, Hancock and Pearl River County sat in on a staff development meeting Monday. At the meeting, Escudero shared a story about how people who care can change the lives of troubled or disadvantaged children.

Escudero’s story was of a young boy raised by a mother with mental disabilities and an alcoholic father. The child later attempted suicide by putting a bullet in his the chest with his father’s gun. Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.

Escudero said later in life that child was brought before a judge to stand trial for his misconduct. While in the courtroom, the boy’s parents told the judge to lock the boy away. The judge, with no knowledge of the boy’s past, did as the parents asked.

After a year in a juvenile detention center, the boy was given a second chance when a volunteer met him. Instead of preaching as so many had done before, this man got to know the boy and became fond of him. The mentor asked the boy if he would like to leave the detention center.

It took some doing, but a phone call to the St. Michael’s Academy in Carriere found the boy a new home, Escudero said. During the boy’s time at St. Michael’s he learned to read and was taught principles and values. Later the boy attended Pearl River Community College and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. In the early 1980s the man who was once a troubled boy took over operations of St. Michael’s Academy that gave him a new life. Nearly 20 years later he became Director of Student Services at Pearl River Community College. Escudero said that troubled boy was him.

He said he is a prime example that children need academic support and encouragement to become successful. To further prove his point, he read a list of Head Start graduates who went on to earn Masters and Doctorate degrees.

“You might not be able to take some people out of poverty but you can teach them resilience,” Escudero said.

Picayune has both Head Start and Early Head Start facilities. Soon, a new Head Start building will cater to the needs of children in Picayune, tentatively in January. The new $1.3 million facility is under construction next to the National Guard Armory. Jackson estimates it is about half complete.