Head Start Program embraces family; parents and kids benefit Anita Nelson reads to a group of kids at the Main Street Head Start center in Vermillion. Jaci Holzwarth, in the white sweatshirt, and Head Start Director Mary Main look on as Nick, Alexis and Guy enjoy the story. by M. Jill Sundstrom The University of South Dakota Head Start Program is quietly celebrating its 20th birthday this year ? there are no candles or cake, but after two decades, the program has helped preschool children and their parents develop in myriad ways.
�We�re very proud of our program,� said Mary Main, director of USD Head Start. �This is a program that embraces the family, meeting the social, educational and health needs of both parents and children. There is no end to the help Head Start provides.�
Head Start provides children with activities that help them grow mentally, socially, emotionally and physically. USD�s Head Start Program has provided services in southeastern South Dakota since 1978. Families in Clay, Lincoln, Turner and Union Counties are served.
�It�s based on family income,� Main said. �We work with schools, county health nurses, social services, preschool and early childhood programs in schools for recruitment.�
Home-based programs serve children and their parents in the rural areas of the four counties served, according to Main.
�That part of the program is for moms who are at home with their kids when transportation becomes an issue,� she said. �They receive a home visit once a week for an hour and a half, during which the focus is on activities and developmental issues. Plus, those kids also have the opportunity for a center-based experience twice a month.�
Center-based programs are located in Canton, Tea, Lennox, Beresford and Jefferson, along with two locations in Vermillion.
�Children come to the centers four days a week for 3 1/2 to 4 hours a day,� Main said. �It�s like a preschool setting where they experience developmentally appropriate activities. Some centers are fairly structured, some are not. The teacher sets up the environment for the kids.�
Educational activities may include story time, art, music and computers. Building blocks and toys are used during play time, while outdoor fun enhances the development of gross motor skills.
�There�s rarely a day when the children don�t go outside,� Main said.
While language and movement are important in a child�s life, so is nutrition.
�That�s a major focus of Head Start,� Main said. �Children in the morning sessions get a breakfast and lunch, while the afternoon sessions eat lunch and a snack.�
Meals are served �family style� around a table.
�The children learn how to say please and thank you, how to pass things, rather than just reach and grab, and table talk, conversation while they eat, is encouraged,� Main said.
Foods are also introduced to the children on a �try it, you might like it� basis.
�Even if it�s just one pea, we encourage the children to take a taste,� Main said. �And after the meal, the children learn how to clean up after they eat.�
A total of 155 children are enrolled in the USD Head Start program, which is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
�Each year we write a continuation grant,� Main said. �Our budget averages about $720,000 per year, which includes the home visits, the centers, health services such as physicals and dental hygiene, monitoring nutrition and administration.�
Twenty-five percent of the grant depends on an in-kind match that comes from volunteers and parents who contribute time or donated goods.
�Involvement of parents and the community is very important to the program,� Main said. �Instead of everyone doing their own thing, it�s important to get together and work toward the same goals. That�s part of the reason why we have a policy council where parents and community members meet to make decisions about the program.�