Early Head Start expansion opens at Nicholson

Published 1:44 am Sunday, February 20, 2011

A new Early Head Start campus has opened in the Picayune Municipal Separate School District adjacent to Nicholson Elementary School.

The campus held its ribbon cutting in a ceremony at the campus Friday morning preceded by remarks from various people who have been instrumental in the inclusion of Early Head Start, a pre-school program for children from birth through age 3 when they can begin the regular pre-school Head Start program that began as a summer school program in 1965.

Early Head Start, which began in 1996, came to the Picayune School District in 1999 at a meeting around the kitchen table of Picayune assistant superintendent Brent Harrell, recalled several of the speakers at Friday’s opening, including Dr. Tom Clark who was superintendent of the Picayune school district at the time. Funding through a federal Early Head Start Grant got the program up and running with its first permanent campus across from the South Side Elementary campuses.

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Clark told the gathering at the new campus that he and other educators knew they had to do something “when a third of our children come to kindergarten not prepared to learn.” He said that those children who were enrolled in the program nine years ago are “in school today outperforming their peers.”

When the meeting in Harrell’s kitchen took place, the district was providing birth to age 3 early education through a grant from the Pearl River Valley Foundation and was looking for a way to continue and expand the program, Clark and Harrell all recalled in their remarks.

Director of the Early Head Start program, Pamela Thomas, who was also part of the meeting, wrote the initial grant for Early Head Start for the Picayune district to the U.S. Department of Education, which was approved and funded by the department.

Thomas referred to Harrell as the key person behind the scenes in getting the Early Head Start program going in Picayune. “The program began in your kitchen, Mr. Harrell,” she said.

Thomas said the expansion came about, because “We realized we were not meeting all the needs of the children in this community and it was time to expand.”

Picayune school board member Tony Smith praised the location of the expansion campus at Nicholson and thanked the Pearl River County school board for rejecting the expansion to a campus located in its school district.

Deputy Police Chief David Ervin told the group at the opening, “The foundation you are building under these kids is important … it makes my job so much easier.”

Harvey Miller, who was on the Picayune school board at the time the district applied for the original grant in 1999, told Thomas and the gathering, “This is a very big thing for me because it has affected a lot of children. … It’s not how much money we have in the bank, it’s our children” that are important.

The expansion will allow the Picayune school district to double the number of children served to about 150, according to a press release from EHS. The release said the program has served about 800 children since its inception and helped more than 80 teenage mothers to continue their public school education and go on to college..