The Commerce Journal

Features

April 28, 2014

Organization gives low income families a head start in education

COMMERCE — For students who grow up in a low-income household, the start of their education career can be difficult.

That situation is exacerbated when students are raised in a single-parent household.

According to a research study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, low-income students are six times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers.

Judy Evans, director of Head Start Hunt County and principal of L.P. Waters Early Childhood Learning Center, wants to help bridge the learning gap as early as possible.

The Greenville Independent School District recently received a five-year, $1.9 million grant renewal for the program, which covers students in Commerce, Greenville and Quinlan.

Now in her fourth year as director, Evans is part of the federal program that offers free education to eligible children in Hunt County.

Head Start Hunt County also operates in Commerce and Quinlan, but with more than 100 students, L.P. Waters is the county’s central hub.

Evans said she sees a lot of families who want the best for their children, but do not have the income to support a healthy education.

“Often it’s single, low-income families,” she said.

That’s where Head Start comes in.

“Sometimes they don’t have experiences other kids have,” she said, adding that many of the students who begin do not have knowledge of colors or letters. “Our goal is to get them ready for kindergarten.”

The Head Start at L.P. Waters is different than many Head Start programs across the country in that it does not have specific rooms designated for students in the program.

Evans said they have the Head Start students mingle with the other students to show that all students are considered equal at L.P. Waters.

“No one is singled out as a Head Start Student here,” she said, adding the children do not realize they are in the program. “The only difference is funding.”

By including children from various ethnicities and walks of life, Head Start helps each student learn how to engage in a diverse environment.

“It excites me that I have such a variety of demographics,” she said.

Evans said with half the teachers at L.P. Waters holding masters degrees, they are highly qualified to meet the children’s needs.

With two teachers per classroom, Evans said students are able to receive more hands on learning.

“I think that offers a lot more opportunity for smaller group instruction and really a safer environment,” she said.

Not only does the program bolster the children’s education, but Evans also hosts monthly meetings that help prepare parents for their child’s continuing education.

“It’s not only about getting students prepared for kindergarten, but the parents as well,” she said. “It is not just a regular school, it’s a variety of interested community members who choose to volunteer to come here to continually assess our program and make it better.”

In the spirit of preparing parents as well, L.P. Waters is also part of a grant that bolsters Head Start by offering job training and ESL classes for parents and students.

The class, taught by Vickie Peterson, is funded through the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) grant.

Evans said she is glad the W. Walworth Harrison Library is interested in literacy for adults.

“The library allows us to have the classes there at night,” she said. ”We are all partners together. It does not just benefit Head Start parents, it benefits any parent who needs it.”

Evans said the parents who attend the meetings and literacy classes are determined their children get a good education.

“They want to learn English,” she said, adding the parents work with their children very diligently. “They so want to help their children. They are that determined to make a difference.”

Through the monthly Head Start meetings, Evans is able to meet with parents, teachers, school board members and teachers from kindergarten schools and above to get feedback on how the program is going and make any appropriate changes in the program.

Evans said learning from the diverse group of people is what has helped the program succeed.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun, and I think it’s exemplary,” she said. “We just want to get them ready for school. We want them to be successful. I think we’re doing a really good job at it. Our teachers are amazing. I’m just so grateful.”

The program has been around since 1998 when now Executive Director for Human Resources at GISD Ralph Sanders began it in a small school building off of Interstate 30.

Evans said Sanders deserves great credit for starting the program, and is glad she is able to continue the program and help children and parents alike, succeed in the community.

“We have seen lots of wonderful things happen in this school to help prepare kids,” she said. “It empowers students, empowers parents and empowers the community to do great things for our kids.”

To see if your child is eligible for the program, visit the Texas Head Start Association at www.txhsa.org/Enrollment.html

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