Head Start gives local children a boost into school

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Some snacked and some giggled, but all the 424 children at the Natchez Head Start center were busy and under careful watch of their teachers at the Thompson Center on North Union Street on Tuesday.

These are children getting a boost they might otherwise not have, preschoolers prepped for the real school world of kindergarten, that next step they will make when they leave Head Start after age 5, teachers and administrators said.

Telling the community about all the ways children can benefit from available services in child education and child health is the impetus behind a fair to be held Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Natchez Mall Center Court.

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Head Start in Natchez and the Boswell Regional Center Early Intervention Program are sponsors of the fair, which will bring out representatives of many other agencies, as well, including hospitals, therapists, clubs and shelters.

The public may not know that at Head Start the children are not the only ones benefiting from the preschool prep, said Yokena Mims, parental involvement specialist with the Head Start program.

&uot;We try to focus on the parents so that once the children are in public schools, they will be used to being involved. This is a kind of training for the children and the parents,&uot; Mims said.

She has begun programs to get fathers more involved, to provide information parents can use to help their children at home and to keep in touch with families through a regular newsletter.

Nakeisha Pierce, an Early Head Start family service worker, said further efforts at the school will include providing GED classes there, so parents of Head Start students may take advantage of the convenience of dropping off children and going to another part of the building to study.

&uot;With this new building, we have so much room to do things like that,&uot; Pierce said of the former Sadie V. Thompson School, formerly a part of the Natchez public school system.

Head Start, in Natchez sponsored by the Adams Jefferson Franklin Claiborne Community Action Agency, is a nationwide program with its primary focus on children from disadvantaged families, providing an educational curriculum but also emphasizing health, nutrition and mental health of the children.

Head Start accepts disabled children and also has what is termed an &uot;early intervention program&uot; for children from birth to age 3 &045; now recognized as an essential outreach to locate, assess and treat developmentally delayed children.

Pierce and Rosalynn Magruder Forrest of the Boswell Regional Center in Meadville described one child who came to Head Start about a year ago. &uot;She was severely delayed in a lot of areas,&uot; Forrest said. &uot;When she came, at about age 12 months, she wasn’t doing anything; she wasn’t standing, she wasn’t saying ‘mama’ or ‘daddy’ and now she’s doing all of that. And she’s laughing.&uot;

Knowing where to turn for help is crucial for a family with a special-needs child. The first step, however, is admitting a special need exists, Forrest said.

&uot;I know there are children out there we’re not reaching,&uot; Forrest said. &uot;It is primarily a lack of education and a lack of knowledge about the services.&uot;

Further, too many parents cannot admit their children’s needs. &uot;If they are in denial, there is nothing you can do but back off until they’re ready and then usually it’s too late,&uot; Forrest said.

The Boswell Center serves 12 counties in Southwest Mississippi, sending workers out into the homes where children with special needs live. &uot;We provide all the services within the home except for speech therapy, and that is done at the center,&uot; Forrest said.

Head Start and the Boswell Center work hand in hand to assist as many children as can be found with needs. &uot;We do a lot of public awareness programs,&uot; Forrest said. &uot;We may get a referral from Head Start, from a grandparent or a day care center or a doctor or hospital.&uot;