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School board approves preschool program for low-income families to use classroom at Warren Elementary School

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - A group of parents and staff members from the Head Start program talk with the Scappoose School Board during a July 9 board meeting. Head Start Program Director Joyce Ervin requested to use a classroom at Warren Elementary School to serve Scappoose families. Families in Scappoose will have one more preschool option thanks to a new Head Start program set to open this fall.

During the July 9 board meeting, the Scappoose School Board approved a three-year agreement to allow Head Start educators and staff to use a portable classroom at Warren Elementary School that is currently vacant, starting in September.

Board member Lisa Maloney voted in opposition.

Head Start is designed to introduce and familiarize preschool-age children to the school setting, teach overall healthy habits, and help prepare parents and families for school, especially for lower-income families who might not have access to preschool programs otherwise.

The program is federally and state-funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Locally, it is administered by Community Action Team, and while teachers and staffers work in various school districts, they are not employees of the district itself. CAT has been providing Head Start classes in the community since 1968.

During the July 9 school board meeting, a group of Head Start employees and parents whose children were served through the program spoke to the school board.

Currently, families in Scappoose who apply and qualify for the Head Start program can attend classes in St. Helens, but as Scappoose parent Marika Mark explained, the commute from Scappoose — including a 40-minute roundtrip drive in addition to the 15- to 20-minute pick up routine — cuts into the day and poses a challenge for her family of five. Mark explained that having the Head Start option closer to her home would help immensely.

Joyce Ervin, the Head Start program director, explained that it is incredibly beneficial for preschool students to attend pre-K classes near school buildings where they will attend kindergarten classes the following school year. Children are able to learn about their new school, see what the building is like and meet teachers and administrators.

"We want to be able to serve children in their school district so they're able to get used to the school they're going to be going to. We like to work with the district to help transition students," Ervin said. "Operating a classroom in the school building makes that more possible."

Additionally, it helps parents connect with school staff and become familiar with dropping their kids off for classes, a new routine for many parents, Ervin explained. It also helps parents understand the role of an educator in a child's life.

"A parent is the child's first teacher, and when a student joins school it becomes a partnership," Ervin explained.

Ervin added that Head Start focuses on children's well-being in addition to a classroom-based education. Staff work with parents to make sure kids are up to date on physical exams and immunizations, are eating and staying healthy, and practice safety in the classroom. Head Start staff also support the needs of the family by providing connections to other community resources.

The last time a Head Start program was offered in the Scappoose School District was in the 1960s, Ervin explained, when the program was developed as a summer auxiliary option. Currently, Columbia County runs Head Start programs in Rainier, St. Helens, Clatskanie and Vernonia.

A 2016-17 study of services by CAT indicates 441 children were served, the majority of whom were between the ages of three and four years old.

On Friday, July 13, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici announced that CAT would receive $2.16 million in federal funding. The program receives competitive grant funding every five years with the current project period set for 2015-2020, indicating a renewal of funding for the current fiscal year. Ervin said the funding will help pay for cost of living adjustment for employees, among other benefits.

Head Start classes begin in the fall and coincide with the Scappoose School District's schedule for elementary schools. Class size is limited to 20 students. For more information or to register for classes, call 503-397-4114 or 503-556-3736.

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