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Sat, July 31

One year later, Head Start students thrive

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — One year after Head Start’s inaugural class at Grand Canyon School, the impact of the program on students entering kindergarten is undoubtedly positive – an immediate reward for the community supporters who worked for more than 10 years to get the program up and running.

Students entering kindergarten from pre-school programs, including Head Start, are more prepared for the material ahead of them, said teacher Christine Chavez.

“They know most of their letters, and they are comfortable with their numbers,” she said. “They come in knowing their letters, which is a huge advantage as we teach them sounds, as well as how to blend them and read. They’re also a lot more comfortable with using numbers. Almost all of the students coming from Head Start can count to five, and many of them can count to ten.”

It also makes meeting the state’s education standards easier to meet.

“Because they have a good foundation of basics, we can spend more time moving forward, progressing to skills that the state says they should know,” she explained.

While students come into her classroom more academically-prepared, it’s the intangible attributes that set the students apart, according to Chavez. Head Start students are already comfortable with the structure of being in the classroom and away from their parents.

“They know how to be at school,” she said. “They know how to sit still, listen and focus on the lessons. They also have more developed social skills. They know about sharing, cooperating with other students, and using their words when they encounter problems.”

While the academic benefits of the program are clearly defined, Grand Canyon Head Start coordinator and teacher Elsa Peters said she focuses on the success of families as a whole. That includes offering access to resources such as health screenings, services for children with special needs and nutrition information.

“It’s all about family. We really focus on making sure the family and the child succeed by providing them with information about resources available to them,” she said. “We can refer them to the WIC program, for example, or provide them with referrals and access to counseling services.”

Despite the success of the program, enrollment continues to be a hurdle, Peters said, because the program is directed mainly at lower income families.

“Our challenge is to let these lower income families know that we are here to help them get a good start and provide these services for them,” she said. “We want to focus on getting the word out to them. We’re here for them.”

The program has also begun to evolve and make changes in the classroom as well.

After its first year of morning-only classes, the program this year will extend the day to sixhours, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Not only does this provide more time to teach the students the basics they will need for kindergarten, Peters said, but it also cuts down on any issues parents may have with leaving work early to pick up their children.

Perhaps the most important development, though, is the partnership between the Head Start program and the school. Chavez and Peters met at the end of the first year to discuss the concepts and skills the students would need to succeed in the kindergarten environment. The students and their families were then invited to kindergarten orientation to become familiar with the classroom, other students, and Chavez herself.

Peters noted that even though the program is located in Grand Canyon, families from Tusayan and Valle are also able to take advantage of the program, which is free for those who qualify.

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