The Bismarck Head Start program has had to be flexible in providing programs for preschool students. It hasn’t been easy, but Head Start has been able to meet the needs of many youngsters.
Head Start is a federally funded preschool program for students from low-income families. Most of the children come from families whose incomes fall below 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
This year reflects the challenges faced by Head Start. The program had funding for 223 students, but at the beginning of the school year they still had room for 16 students. So they had to go recruiting and eventually filled all 223 spots. However, as the school year went along they lost some students as parents moved away. Some families don’t know about Head Start programs because they are new to the area. Many have come to Bismarck because of jobs related to the oil boom. Due to the nature of the jobs, some of the families don’t stay for the entire school year. So Head Start has to deal with an ever-changing enrollment.
Transportation also has been an issue for some families. Head Start provides busing, but rules don’t allow any student to ride a bus longer than an hour. This precludes some families from the busing program because of their distance from the school. The Head Start classes last 3.5 hours, which makes it difficult for some working parents to pick up their children. Head Start hopes to solve this problem by adding some classes that last 5.5 hours.
Some teachers for the Head Start program come from the Bismarck School District and the district sets the salaries. This coming school year the district’s teachers will receive raises. The teachers in the Head Start program are paid through federal funds. Since the federal funding for Head Start won’t change in the coming year, the enrollment will be capped at 201 instead of 223 and the number of teachers will drop from nine to eight.
It’s disappointing to see the drop in teachers and students as Head Start serves families that wouldn’t be able to put their children in other programs. This is the only opportunity for many of these children to learn at an early age. It gives them a chance to prepare for school and be on equal footing with other kids.
Head Start looks for other sources of income to meet its needs. It recently used a grant to hire a recruitment manager to spread the word about Head Start programs. It placed information about Head Start on Lincoln’s water bills. When it goes to longer classes it also will increase the size of the classes so the teachers can handle the additional classes.
Head Start is part of the Bismarck Early Childhood Education Program, which includes three other programs that don’t base a student's eligibility on family income. Those programs have seen enrollment increase.
It’s too easy to downplay the importance of Head Start to the Bismarck area. Providing children with the opportunity to learn is one of the most valuable things we can do for them. Head Start should be applauded for their efforts and the community should do everything it can to help them inform families of the availability of Head Start programs.