Local program looking for pupils

The program is designed to give disadvantaged kids a boost.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown Area Community Action Council's Head Start program wants your children.
Eligible Mahoning County kids from 3 to 5 years old who are enrolled in the program will head off to a classroom setting in September, much like their school-age counterparts but with curriculum designed for pre-kindergarten kids. YACAC employees, however, say not enough young minds are finding their way into those classrooms.
The federally funded program can accommodate about 1,525 pupils. The program is currently at 60 percent to 70 percent capacity but must meet full enrollment within 30 days after the Sept. 9 start date. Children can be enrolled anytime during the year.
Head Start is geared toward giving disadvantaged kids the opportunity to get into a good educational program at a reduced cost. Eligibility is based on parents' income.
Judy Miller, assistant Head Start director, said it is important that parents understand the vital skills and advantages afforded to Head Start pupils, such as kindergarten readiness skills involving literacy, computer competency, social skills, numeracy and various types of reasoning.
Children in the program also learn a variety of skills and healthy habits essential to optimum function, such as the importance of choosing vegetables over junk food. Head Start officials say self-esteem is boosted and later proficiency test scores are generally higher.
Unaware parents
With all the program's benefits, officials feel the less-than-capacity enrollment shows that parents are not aware of all the program has to offer. Miller said many pre-kindergarten kids are in the care of relatives, while parents work, or at day-care centers, which lack the educational component found in the Head Start program.
Lisa Beckinger, education manager, said all Head Start teachers have at least a two-year college degree in early childhood education or a related field. All classrooms are also equipped with computers to enhance literacy skills, and programs are coordinated with Youngstown city schools and the Mahoning County Board of Education, she said.
According to Orenda Johnson, nutritional manager, all Head Start pupils are provided hot meals with up to two-thirds of the daily nutritional allowances.
In an added effort to bring in more pupils, Head Start officials have extended the hours of operation and started accepting children under 3.
"There is a big need to service infants and toddlers in our area, and that need is continually growing," said Miller.
Nikki Davis, parent involvement specialist, said families also benefit from the Head Start program through the Grandparent Relief Program, a support group for grandparents rearing their grandchildren, and the Male Involvement Initiative, where males support one another in family issues.

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