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Tue, Aug. 03

Head Start partnering with Grand Canyon communities
Head Start expecting a full first class, hopes to open doors within the next month

Head Start is working on restroom facilities at Grand Canyon School before officially opening its doors. File photo

Head Start is working on restroom facilities at Grand Canyon School before officially opening its doors. File photo

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Offering Head Start at the Grand Canyon may have taken over 10 years to accomplish, but within the next few weeks representatives say the program will open its doors.

Based on growing interest from the Grand Canyon and Tusayan communities, Jesse Rodriguez, director of Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) for Head Start, believes they can expect a full classroom.

"I'll tell you (the delay) is unfortunate but we are so pleased," he said. "It looks like we, right now, are within one student of having full enrollment available and ready to go."

Head Start considers a full class to be 17 children. This is the first time Head Start will be offered at the Canyon.

Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness in low-income families through education, health screenings, services for children with special needs and nutrition information. According to the program's website, Head Start has served more than 30 million children ages zero to five since it started in 1965. The program is free for those who qualify.

According to Rodriguez, offering the program at Grand Canyon has been a work in progress. The push to get the program at Grand Canyon was initiated over 10 years ago after community members voiced interest in having the program. Finding space at the Canyon was a problem. Over time, Grand Canyon School followed up on community inquires, asking what it would take to offer Head Start. At that time, finding building space for their program and adequate funding were major roadblocks.

Despite how long it has taken to get to the Grand Canyon, Rodriguez said he has never seen a community more willing to help.

"I have never been in a spot where I have had so much support," Rodriguez said. "Everybody wants to help."

In order to find the best way to establish the program, Head Start coordinators took a year to familiarize themselves with Grand Canyon School, the National Park Service and the community.

"We didn't want to step on the toes of another child care center that may be there," Rodriguez said. "So we took that year to acquaint ourselves with Grand Canyon resources and especially the public schools."

Michelle Pahl, director at Kaibab Learning Center (KLC), which offers childcare for children from infants to 12 years old, said she is happy for any student that will benefit from Head Start and said she does not believe the program will have a significant impact at KLC.

"I think we'll be fine. I'm happy that more kids are going to have the opportunity to be in a classroom environment," she said. "As far as our kids go, I know there is certain criteria that (students) need to qualify (at Head Start) for, so for us I don't think it will impact us."

Pahl said KLC is also open to possibly providing care for students from Head Start in the afternoon, if Head Start only offers morning classes.

"We're here to help the community in anything we can do," she said. "We are all part of the community and we are trying to be one big team...we are here to support them, for sure."

Rodriguez said Head Start brings many great opportunities to families at the Grand Canyon and in Tusayan.

"Once we open up we (believe) we are going to see that need continue to come forth even more so," he said. "We feel that there are a lot of children that need services in the area."

In addition to the social and educational components of the program, Head Start students also benefit from various health related check ups. Students receive education screenings, mental health screenings, audio and vision testing, and physical and dental exams.

The various components of the Head Start program prepare students to be successful when they advance to the school system.

"We want to prepare them the best we can for kindergarten," said Elsa Peters coordinator and teacher for Head Start at the Grand Canyon.

Head Start classes use a creative curriculum focusing on social and development skills, mathematics, family style meals, language development and other areas to prepare each student for kindergarten.

Other center's typical days start with students eating breakfast, having circle time, brushing their teeth, moving freely from learning center to learning center and playing outdoors. Throughout the day, instructors strive to develop a child's critical thinking skills. Teachers also emphasize a practice called conscious discipline, which is a way for children to deal with stress, anger or sadness. The technique teaches children about consequences, positive intent, empathy, composure, encouragement, choices and assertiveness.

Depending on when classroom and playground equipment are approved, Head Start hopes to start classes within the next month. The classroom will be located in Grand Canyon School and will be offered four days a week - Monday through Thursday. Head Start is waiting for approval from the park and the Historical Society at Grand Canyon, who had concerns about the proposed playground. Head Start can begin classes without the playground and have considered holding activities in the school gym for the time being.

"We already have the equipment," Rodriguez said. "To be honest our biggest concern (now) is this weather that is going to start turning (bad)."

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