When teacher Cami Thompson brings out a handmade book about friends, children in the Flandreau Head Start program read along as a group.
In the style of Eric Carle’s repetitive book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, this book asks “who do you see,” and the children gleefully identify each other as their page and picture comes up in an inclusive read-a-long that captures their attention.
The 17 children ages 3 to 5 are the first class of Head Start participants since the program returned to Flandreau in August after a two-year absence. In July, Moody County Commissioners approved $20,000 in county money be spent to fix up a room at the extension building by replacing ceiling tiles and walls so that Head Start could use the space. The program pays the county $800 a month in rent.
The return of Head Start has drawn positive comments, Thompson says. “It really is good.”
Head Start works with children and their families to get preschoolers ready for kindergarten. Most of that happens through play, she says. She and assistant teacher Karee Moir, both from Bruce, focus on social skills such as taking turns, sitting still and forming a line. They also work on numbers and letters, including writing names and putting things in a sequence.
“They’re doing very well,” she says. “We can show definite progress.”
The children eat breakfast, lunch and a snack at Head Start. They work on brushing their teeth and washing their hands. In addition to activities at Head Start, staff also includes parents in the program, conducts home visits and provides screenings. In some cases, teachers are able to identify children who may need extra help when they start school.
The program has been at capacity since it opened, and there is a waiting list. Applications are being taken for next year at the ICAP office in Flandreau. Children who have not turned 5 by Sept. 1 are eligible to return next fall.
There’s a big need for preschool opportunities in Flandreau and Head Start helps fill that void, she said. “Most of our families can’t afford private preschool.”
In addition to the teacher, assistant teacher and the nutrition assistant, the program is adding a classroom aide this month.
Head Start creens children on developmental issues, vision and hearing and social-emotional development. In some cases, the program has found students who need glasses or counseling, said Steph Lebeda, Head Start pre-birth to 5 director with Interlakes Community Action Partnership in Madison.
Flandreau has supported bringing Head Start back to town, she said. “The feedback that we’ve gotten has all been very positive. We certainly are glad to back there.”
Marietta Gassman, a special education teacher in the Flandreau School District, said the program helps children develop social-emotional skills to become ready to go to school. For some children who aren’t exposed to other children in a child-care or preschool setting, Head Start is particularly helpful, she said.
“It gives them an opportunity to interact with kids and learn some pre-learning strategies that are important,” Gassman said. “It provides different experiences that some children might not have throughout their day.”
Head Start has shown it is vital to communities, Thompson says. Studies show that children who have been to Head Start do better than children from similar background experiences in the early elementary grades, and they graduate from high school at a higher rate, she said.
“We give the children a leg up so they’re ready to learn when they go to kindergarten,” she says.