Head Start is a federally-funded child development/preschool program serving low-income children and families. Nearly one million American children are currently enrolled in Head Start programs.
The MAISD partners with area school districts to serve 995 children throughout Muskegon and Oceana counties. The program’s main goal is to provide a high-quality, comprehensive preschool program and thus help prepare our community’s children for success in school and in life. Research shows that learning and development during the years from birth to age five is critical to a child’s future success.
To make sure each child is healthy and ready to learn, copies of the following documents are required: Child’s latest immunization records, last health and dental exams, and other health history records. Also required is a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a completed Head Start application, emergency contact information, and proof of family income.
If any document is not available, Head Start staff works with families to get them completed.
The federal government gives Head Start of Muskegon/Oceana 995 “slots” – or classroom openings. Unfortunately, many more children in our community are eligible, and often the waiting list exceeds 300 children.
As required by federal regulations, a “priority grid” is used to make placement decisions of children. For example, four year old children receive more “points” than three year old children since all children should attend at least one year of pre-school before entering kindergarten. That being said, about 40 percent of all children in Head Start of Muskegon/Oceana begin as three year olds.
Absolutely. More than ten percent of all children attending Head Start have special needs. Head Start staff works closely with local special education departments to ensure proper placement and services for any child with an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Most Head Start classes meet either in the morning or afternoon on Mondays through Thursdays. Fridays are reserved for home visits and planning. Head Start classrooms traditionally operate September through May.
Head Start requires that children receive at least one-third of their daily nutritional requirements as outlined by federal standards. Healthy and nutritious breakfasts, lunches, and snacks are provided to all children. A Head Start Registered Dietician reviews all menus as well as works closely with families of any child with allergies needing special accommodations to meal menus.
An important part of the Head Start program is developing healthy eating habits and broadening children’s exposure to different foods. Head Start classrooms have ongoing “food experiences” which children try different foods in fun and imaginative ways. In addition, the program has put in place policies such as “no sweets” in the classroom in order to promote healthy snacks and alternatives. We ask parents not to send candy or other sweet treats to classrooms.
Although not required by the federal government, Head Start of Muskegon/Oceana provides bus transportation for the vast majority of children. Due to state child care license rules, a child may not be on a bus longer than one hour. This requires that some children are picked up at group locations or not offered transportation at all. The majority of bus stops are directly in front of the child’s home or designated child care location.
Based on research and decades of experiences, Head Start activities focus on eight domains: Language Development, Literacy, Mathematics, Science, Creative Arts, Social & Emotional Development, and Physical Health & Development. All Head Start classrooms use Creative Curriculum for Preschool, a scientifically-based curriculum, along with an internet-based child assessment system to measure progress and make program improvements. In addition to focusing efforts on these domains, the Head Start program dedicates significant efforts on involving parents in activities including multiple home visits and parent-teacher conferences. Nutrition, mental health, health care and dental visits are also part of the program.
For a further description of the program, see the Head Start annual report.
Head Start of Muskegon/Oceana believes in developing the building blocks of reading and writing, much like when a child learns to crawl before learning how to walk. However, this does not mean a child will be reading and writing by the time their time ends in Head Start. What is most important is that a foundation is established with each child recognizing that every child learns and develops at his or her own pace. This approach helps prepare children for their kindergarten years and beyond.
The Head Start Impact Study was conducted in 2006 looking at 1,600 student records of children in Muskegon and Oceana counties. The research showed that on third grade MEAP scores former Head Start children scored equal to all other children in reading and slightly lower on math skills. Given that there exists an “achievement gap” nationally among children of lower economic means versus children of higher incomes, these results show that Head Start works in preparing children for successful school years.
Parents are key to a child’s development and learning. Parent involvement is strongly encouraged and welcomed in Head Start. Numerous family activities are planned throughout the year, and parents are supported in working on projects and activities at home with their child. Regular home visits and parent-teacher conferences are held during the school year. Parents also have the opportunity to serve in leadership roles making decisions about the program through the Policy Council.