Early Head Start program proves popular among local parents

Published 9:06 am Thursday, August 13, 2015

early hs

Getting a head start: A newly-expanded Head Start program that offers pre-kindergarten to everyone and partners with local day care facilities and schools is so popular among local parents that some facilities are full. The classes only started last week.

Although the expanded local Early Head Start program is only in its first year, the program is already proving itself to be very popular.

Felicia Perkins, the center director of the McCarty Learning Center, said her program, which began last Thursday, is already full and there’s a waiting list to get into the early program.

That said, Perkins still encourages parents to sign up their kids.

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“When they hear it’s a waiting list they’re going to be hesitant to apply, but they should go ahead and apply because children do drop, and so it’s always good to go ahead and apply and if they don’t get on this year then the information will be here for the following year.”

The Early Head Start program focuses on kids who are anywhere from newborns to 2-years-old and, unlike the regular Head Start program that focuses its services on mostly lower-income residents, this Early Head Start program offers its services to everyone, regardless of income.

“They’re still paying for the childcare services but they’re afforded the opportunity to utilize some of the opportunities that Early Head Start offers,” she said.

The local Early Head Start program is the result of a grant that the Picayune School District was awarded. The local grant is the result of a national push to partner longtime childcare providers with school districts. The idea is to increase enrollment in pre-kindergarten programs, especially in areas where pre-kindergarten classes have not been offered. In addition to extra staff training and curriculum, the grant pays for some improvements to buildings.

“More funding means more quality,” said Perkins. “One of the other things they’re going to be doing is, they’ll be helping us to bring up the building. There are some renovations that need to be done that will bring our building up to standard, so it’s going to be good.”

So far, 125 kids have signed up at Perkins’ facility.

The McCarty Learning Center, which is owned by the Rose of Sharon Church of God in Christ, is not the only facility participating in the Early Head Start program. Perkins mentioned that Annie’s Kindergarten is also participating in the program as is the Pearl River Community College and a couple of private childcare centers, but even with all the partners, Perkins said she thinks some kids are being missed.

“I feel like we’re not reaching all the children, even with the existing waiting list,” she said. “Even with that, I don’t think we’re reaching all the children. I don’t know what the reasons may be, I know there are barriers out there and we’re trying to find those and work on those barriers.”

Some parents may think that a baby can’t benefit from pre-kindergarten, but Perkins said even the youngest child can learn, and that later in life the program can help in school.

“One thing about the program, it’s designed to be age-appropriate to the child, so if the baby is 2-months-old, there’s a program specific for them, and if the child is 1-year-old, then there is an age-specific program for them. … And some kids may be delayed, so you develop something that meets their individual needs.”

But, she explained, the real payoff may be years down the road.

“It does (make a difference),” she said. “Because what it affords them, in addition to early education, is socialism, social emotional education. That’s a great hindrance in a classroom if you have 30 kids who have never had any social structure prior to getting into that classroom. Our objective is to get them ready for schools.”

To find out more about the Early Head Start Program at the McCarty Learning Center or to enroll a child into the regular Head Start program, call Perkins at 601-799-2716.