As the 20 Head Start pre-school students in Maria Marques’ classroom at Osborn Elementary finished their lunches, parent volunteers Victor Sanabria and Christine Berlin helped the kids throw away their disposable plates and head to the reading carpet.
While Marques and her assistant Karah Starr read the kids a book, another parent wiped the lunch tables clean then grabbed a broom to sweep the floor.
When group reading time was over, each child chose a book to look at while waiting for parents to come pick them up from school. The parents — and a few grandparents — came trickling into the classroom. They greeted their child, and then looked for any announcements or information they may need about happenings in their child’s classroom. Quite a few spoke with Marques and Starr.
One or two stopped to speak with a Head Start family services coordinator about food baskets and low-income healthcare programs available in the community.
According to Turlock Unified School District’s School Readiness Program Coordinator Judy Huerta, the educational partnership between teachers, social workers and parents that was evident in Marques’ classroom is what makes Head Start so successful in preparing children for the rigors of the K-12 educational system.
“We can’t just focus on the children, we need to help the whole family,” Huerta said.
Head Start aims to inform the whole family about nutrition, proper health care and educational opportunities. The program’s family service workers meet with individual families at their houses and find out what their greatest needs are — housing, healthcare, food assistance — and then provide the community resource information they need.
Along with providing families information, parent volunteering in the classroom also allows for teaching skills that will help children succeed throughout their lives.
“If we teach the parents that it is important to be involved in the classroom, to ask about homework, to be the primary teacher, to make sure my child is healthy, to look in the community for sports or dance classes for my child, it is our hope and goal that the parents will still be involved when they leave Head Start,” Huerta said.
Sanabria took an extended lunch break from work for an entire week so that he could volunteer in his daughter Isabella’s classroom. Something he also did when his older daughter was in Head Start.
“They like it when you volunteer in the class,” Sanabria said. “And I’m able to see her learning.”
Berlin is a Head Start parent expert. She has had four children in the pre-school program.
“It’s just really rewarding,” she said. “It’s a good start for them to learn how to write their name, and know their colors and numbers.
“I have one daughter who didn’t do Head Start because we moved. She didn’t do as well in school. If she had had that extra help, she’d be doing better.”
Sanabria and Berlin’s praise of the pre-school program was echoed in the results of parent surveys that were part of the Head Start Full Community Assessment presented to the TUSD Board of Trustees on Nov. 16. The program saw 148 families respond to the survey, out of the 158 families that are served by Turlock Head Start. Ninety-five percent of families surveyed expressed satisfaction with the community meeting their family’s educational needs.
In order to improve the educational needs of the family, however, survey respondents said they need to have more affordable child care, more after-school programs that provide educational activities, and more educational programs and classes for parents, including having these available in their immediate proximity.
This ongoing effort to give Turlock’s children everything they need to succeed in school — and life — is what Head Start is all about.
“Parents and the students need to start believing now that each one has the capability to go to university,” Huerta said.
Head Start is a free, federally-funded program that serves low-income or at-risk children ages three to five years old. Head Start classes are offered at Osborn, Cunningham and Wakefield elementary school sites. Registration dates and times for the Head Start 2011-2012 academic year can be obtained by calling each school site.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.