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NeighborImpact opens first full-day program at Ochoco School Crossing in Prineville

HOLLY SCHOLZ - Head Start assistant teacher Jenna Smith leads her students in the "Hello" song first thing Monday morning at the new Head Start classroom at Ochoco School Crossing. Although the preschoolers attended class part-time last week, Monday was the first full week of full-day Head Start in Prineville.

Excitement was in the air as 38 bright-eyed children between the ages of 3 and 5 said goodbye to parents and loved ones and joined their new classmates and teachers for a full day of learning at the former Ochoco Elementary School cafeteria.

On Monday morning, NeighborImpact Head Start kicked off its first full week of classes at the recently refurbished Ochoco Elementary School, now called the Ochoco School Crossing.

"This is our first full-day Head Start program, and we couldn't be more excited," says Kimberly Snow, director of NeighborImpact Head Start.

Housing Works, the regional housing authority, purchased the Ochoco Elementary School campus from the Crook County School District in April for $600,000 with plans to convert the vacated school into a 29-unit affordable housing complex. Plans included turning the detached cafeteria into two preschool classrooms and the gymnasium eventually being home to a variety of Crook County Parks and Recreation District programs.

R & H Construction Company transitioned the former cafeteria building into two early childhood classrooms, installing a wall between the two classrooms as well as two toilets and three sinks in each room. Part of the kitchen area was converted into office space for staff, and part was remodeled to make it more conducive for Head Start's meal service needs. They serve breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack to their preschool students.

"R & H did a fantastic job of putting it together within six weeks," Snow said. "Our teachers and staff have been planning and preparing for this expanded program for months. Full-day Head Start will allow us more time with each student to make improvements in their language, math and social-emotional development and be better prepared for kindergarten when the time comes."

Snow points out that full-day Head Start programs have been on the rise across the United States in recent years with positive results. She notes that full-day preschool students are more likely to score at or above the national average in examinations of literacy, math and language development as compared to part-day students. Full-day students also have higher attendance rates than part-day students, she said, which benefits the individual student and the class as a whole.

A federal government performance standard expects half of all Head Start programs to offer full-day preschool to the low-income children they serve by the year 2019. By 2021, all must be full-day.

"It's not required right now, but we're transitioning into it," Snow explained, adding that of the 22 Head Start classrooms in Central Oregon, only the two new classes in Prineville are the full-day model.

Ochoco students go from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the school year, leaving Fridays for staff to conduct home visits, train, and prepare lessons for the coming week.

"Full-day Head Start is something Central Oregon communities have been asking for for a number of years," Snow pointed out. "Not only are students able to spend more quality time learning, but their parents are provided with time during the day to work on their GED, take classes, or look for full-time work while still actively participating in their child's education. Plus, eventually, many of our students will only have to walk a mere 20 steps from their front door to arrive at school."

The Southeast Second Street Head Start facility continues to serve an additional 20 students from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Snow hopes to eventually get more funding to be able to expand that program to full-day preschool as well.

But for now, Snow is grateful that Housing Works has partnered with Head Start to create two new classrooms in Crook County.

"A lot of our overhead is for personnel, so we really can't afford to pay high rates for our spaces, so we really depend upon that community in-kind," Snow said. "The fantastic partnership with Housing Works is what's made this all possible. They really deserve the huge kudos for reaching out and connecting with us to help to support the children and families in our community."

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