A total of 72 very young children and their Sequatchie Valley families will be served this coming fall and winter with a $1.2 million grant recently awarded to Sequatchie Valley Head Start. The existing Sequatchie Valley Head Start program, which currently serves 368 three- and four-year-olds, will be expanded under the grant to serve an additional 72 infants and toddlers, eventually adding expectant parents.
Comprehensive family services will include a 30-hour per week, center-based program. Staff training kicks off in late July, and classes begin in late August in Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion, and Rhea counties. “This is the 50th year of Head Start,” noted Head Start executive director Judy Graham. “It is thrilling to begin the next half-century by being able to place Early Head Start locations in four of our centers throughout our five county area.” Extensive work on preparing classrooms and outdoor playspaces for children and their teachers is currently underway in Pikeville, Tracy City, South Pittsburg, and Dayton. Graham said that “a good portion” of the new funding is being used for renovation and new equipment purchase.
In Grundy County, Early Head Start children will be served in four groups of four children each, for a total of 16 children. The staff will include four members of the teaching staff, a family service worker as well as a classroom assistant who will double as a nutrition aide. All of them will be hired to work at the agency’s current Tracy City Head Start Center on Hwy 41North. Head Start will expand into the front area of the building that now houses a satellite location of Mountain Valley Mental Health and the Grundy Safe Coalition. Mental health caseworkers will be moving into new office space in the Florence Scruggs Building in Altamont in early June, and the Grundy Safe Coalition will relocate in Tracy City.
The expanding program in the Sequatchie Valley will also mean additional jobs throughout the region. A total of 26 full-time and part-time jobs are opening up for 18 teachers, four classroom assistants and family workers, as well as four nutrition workers. Most positions are full time, and all offer quality fringe benefits as well as paid training opportunities. The hiring process to fill the positions is already underway, and interested applicants should log onto the Head Start website at www.SVHeadStart.info to request an application. All teachers and other caregivers must have early childhood degrees from regionally accredited colleges or be seeking a child development credential in infant and toddler services. Training programs are available both on-line and with traditional classroom and center-based instruction.
Director Graham noted that all teachers and care-givers will be required to have high levels of education and training. “Extensive studies by the National Academy of Sciences make it clear that that very young children need the stimulation and language modeling that is best provided by a staff who have specialized, college-level training.” To attract and select the best talent available, Sequatchie Valley Head Start has begun a round of job fairs throughout the region. In addition, expected staff transfers will likely mean that some positions will become available in the nine preschool centers currently in operation in Altamont, Tracy City, South Pittsburg, Jasper, Whitwell, Dunlap, Pikeville, Dayton, and Spring City.
The expansion of Early Head Start is aimed at reducing what is commonly called the “achievement gap,” in which children from low-income families persistently fall behind their middle-income and high-income classmates. “When a child enrolls in Head Start,” said education director Christy Vandergriff, “the parents enroll as well. Both Head Start and Early Head Start include “extensive engagement with the family to help parents meet goals they set for themselves in partnership with our family workers.”
Just like Head Start, Early Head Start services are aimed at the most vulnerable children and families. Typically, that means low-income families below the federal poverty level which is currently just over $20,000 for a family of three. However, like all Head Start agencies around the country, Sequatchie Valley Head Start gives preference to children in homeless families, children with disabilities, as well as foster children who are top priority. The 72 slots opening up between now and the fall are exclusively for children from birth to three years. The current Head Start program serves families of three- and four-year-olds until they go on to pre-K or kindergarten services.
Last year in Tennessee, more than 2,200 children were served by Early Head Start, with an additional 19,000 served in pre-school Head Start. Head Start started as summer program in May of 1965, and since then, 32 million children and their families have been served. The current expansion of Early Head Start services is part of a national program designed to expand the number of high-quality slots for infants and toddlers.
New and existing Early Head Start programs are partnering with local, center-based and family child care providers to support the provision of comprehensive services. The local program is part of an $11.3 million series of grants awarded to seven Head Start programs across Tennessee. The city of Chattanooga’s Head Start / Early Head Start program was among those awarded expansion grants, and is nationally recognized as a leader in partnership funding of Head Start and Early Head Start services. Chattanooga received $2.1 million in additional funding for its Early Head Start program.
The grants to Tennessee programs were part of $500 million in grants made to programs across the United States.