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Head Start on book smarts

While most of the district teachers were confined to classroom walls last week, the Head Start teachers from McPolin Elementary were doing something a little different. Amy Miner and Kris Vipond spent their mornings getting to know the members of their classes in a more intimate setting the students’ homes. Home visits are an integral part of Head Start, a national nonprofit organization which provides federally-funded preschool to economically disadvantaged families.

A major goal of the program is to emphasize home-school interplay, says Miner, who teaches eight Head Start students in each of her two classes. The home visits help raise the students’ comfort level before they get into the classroom and enable the teachers to establish a relationship with parents early on. The program also employs a family service worker who visits the families on a regular basis to evaluate their needs and connect them with appropriate resources.

The Head Start program in Park City started in 1991 after partnering with the national grantee at the Davis School District. Four-year-old Head Start students combine with community education (tuition-based) preschoolers and special education students to form the three components of Park City School District preschool, which operates out of McPolin Elementary.

"The great thing about Park City’s program is that it pulls Park City community kids together with Head Start kids," says Julie Pew, Education Manager at the Davis Head Start program. "It’s a great childhood setting the classroom is set up for different skill levels, and it’s growing experience for both students and their families."

The Head Start program specializes in developing academic, language and socialization skills. The national organization provides the curriculum and necessary supplies and the school district supplies the classrooms, utilities and additional supplies. Parent volunteers, language pathologists and special education teachers are in and out of the classroom throughout each week.

Aside from home visits, the program administrators strengthen the home/school connection with family-style breakfasts each morning. The kids enjoy hot meals from the cafeteria while learning table manners and communication skills. They even brush their teeth afterwards to help establish healthy daily routines.

During circle time the kids are encouraged to share things about their families or bring in an item for show and tell. The goal is for everyone to feel safe and think of themselves as part of the group. Other activities include art, library, dramatic play, music and listening centers, and of course a generous dose of outdoor recess.

"Most people in Park City aren’t familiar with the program," says Athena Van Gorder, a special education preschool teacher. The program is effective in that the students integrate with peer models and hone their social competence while learning new things, she said. "The learning curve is so fast at this age it’s exciting to see results quickly."

The community education portion of the preschool program is still seeking enrollment for 3-year-olds. Students attend either morning or afternoon sessions two days a week. For more information or to register your child, call Judy Tukuafu at 645-5600 ext. 1447.


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