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Head Start gets boost from local chiefs of police

Federal cuts mean MHCC's center has fewer openings
by: Brandy Slagle, Alexis Shadley and Abel Barrera, center, listen attentively to Troutdale Police Chief David Nelson as he reads to their class at the Mt. Hood Community College Head Start Center. The visit was part of a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the educational program.

Local police chiefs kicked off a statewide tour of Head Start at Mt. Hood Community College's center on Wednesday, July 12.

Head Start provides a solid foundation of comprehensive early childhood development for low-income children and their families.

However, it is a foundation that could be diminishing.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit anti-crime organization founded in 1996, evaluates what does and does not work in crime prevention. The organization, led by police enforcement officials and victims of violence, uses research and analysis to measure the success of intervention programs.

Troutdale Police Chief David Nelson and Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso initiated a statewide tour of Head Start centers by the non-profit group's representatives at the Mt. Hood center.

The driving force of the tour, said Martha Brooks, Fight Crime's state director, is to raise awareness about the lack of federal funding being allocated to the Head Start program.

A 1-percent federal budget cut, retroactive to October 2005, means that the agency will have to start limiting services, including transportation. As many as 200 children could be cut from the program.

In President George Bush's budget proposal for the 2007 fiscal year, no additional funding was allocated for Head Start, which could lead to even more drastic cuts in the future.

'Giving at-risk kids a head start in life today will put many of them on the right path for life. Many of these kids will grow up to be good students, good employees and good citizens. And many of them will never see the inside of a patrol car or jail cell,' said Nelson. 'But first they need the tools to succeed in life.'

Nelson said Head Start could prevent as many as 500 children each year from becoming criminals statewide.

The Mt. Hood Head Start serves more than 900 children and has a waiting list of 1,100.

Shelly Yoder, Head Start family partnerships coordinator for the college, said the cutbacks could hit East County families harder due to a higher overall poverty rate.

'We offer multiple modes of services to the family. The program is really a comprehensive approach. It's not just where a child comes to socialize,' she said.

The integrated services include preschool education, child health, nutrition, social and emotional development and parent education.

Beyond serving as an effective tool for crime prevention, students who attend Head Start show strong improvements in language and math skills, as well as increased graduation rates.

'We already have 1,000 applications for next year's program,' Yoder said.

Brooks said Head Start centers do take and welcome private donations, but the focus of the visits throughout Oregon is to motivate people to talk to their state representatives about crime prevention and early childhood education.

Reporter Brandy Slagle can be reached at 503-492-5114 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..