The early learning program of Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. has been a part of the agency, and Highland County, since 1965.
Director Valerie Williams said the program is meant to prepare kids for school, but there is more to it than just school preparation.
While the program offers the educational services, health and family services are also a part of the program, as are meals and the development of social and emotional skills.
The program consists of Head Start, which has a total of seven classrooms, four in Hillsboro and three in Greenfield; and Early Head Start, with one classroom in Hillsboro and a countywide home-based aspect as well.
With the home-based program, participants are visited in the home once a week and the family and children involved are engaged in activities geared toward school preparedness.
Additionally, an Early Head Start Childcare Partnership Program is offered at Sunrise Sunset Child Care in Hillsboro which, through a grant, allows 24 children at the facility to also receive comprehensive early learning services, Williams said.
Since the 171 3- to 5-year-olds don’t begin Head Start until later in September, those classrooms have yet to show the brightness of a new year as chairs remain neatly stacked and decorations have yet to be placed.
But the Early Head Start classroom is decorated and busy with bright colors and interesting shapes. The door to the classroom is decorated as a minion, the beloved characters from the film “Despicable Me,” and all subsequent films.
Early Head Start is year-round, Williams said, and this year there are 72 students. The classroom kids are between the ages of 18 to 36 months, she said, but children with the home-based program are anywhere from birth to 3 years old.
There are some changes this year, Williams said, that include full-day Head Start, something the federally-funded program has not had before.
Part-day classes will still be offered for the Head Start program. The part-day students will attend Monday through Thursday for 3.5 hours on those days. The full-day students will attend seven hours a day Monday through Friday.
Both sets of students will get time in the classroom, outside on the colorful play equipment, and have snack time, but the full-day students will also have a nap time and meal time, Williams said.
Through the early learning programs, “We are providing child needs and family needs for everybody, as far as preparing them for school,” Williams said. “That goes along with our mission.”
Head Start’s mission “is to provide a loving and nurturing environment in order to prepare children for educational success and support families in achieving their goals.”
Values of the program are to create a difference in the lives of children and families of the community, to provide a quality learning environment, to display teamwork in every relationship, and provide a positive work environment.
The early learning program is income-based, Williams said, and the income guidelines are 100 percent of the poverty level. Priority is given to children with disabilities, she said.
Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. originated in November 1965 and since then has served the Highland County community through a number of programs.
A celebration is being planned to celebrate the agency’s 50 years of serving Highland County.
Information about the Head Start program and HCCAO is available on the agency’s website at hccao.org or can be obtained by calling at 937-393-3458. Community Action is located at 1487 N. High St., Suite 500, Hillsboro.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.