By DAVID COLBERT

New worlds unfold every day. Each morning, parents bring their children to a two-story brick building on Cosby Road in Washington, Indiana for just over three hours of instruction. These are fortunate kids. Not only are they being taught, they’re being closely observed. Teachers and classroom aides are assessing each child’s development, comparing their progress with norms for other three-to-five year-old children, and working creatively and determinedly to help the kids narrow any gaps. This is the kind of school you want your children to attend. But the entrance requirements are tough. Very tough.

The school is called Head Start and admittance is not first-come, first-served. Here, admittance is based on a point system. As a child, the more obstacles you have in your life, the greater the chance you will be accepted into the school. For example, if your family is homeless, if you have developmental disabilities, if you are in a single-parent family, or if you have had no pre-school education until now, your chances of attending here are better. If you fit two or more of these categories, your chances are greatly improved. The greatest need is served first. Are you still eager to qualify? Let me tell you more about the agency.

PACE Community Action Agency is a federally funded organization that strives to improve communities by encouraging self-reliance through a variety of programs and services. PACE operates Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Daviess, Greene, Knox, and Sullivan counties.

Head Start is a federally funded program that provides developmentally appropriate early-childhood-education services to eligible preschool-aged children while involving their total family in the child development process. It provides a comprehensive program to meet children’s emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs, as well as the needs of the family. Head Start provides health screenings to all children, including vision, hearing, speech, height, weight, lead, blood pressure and hemoglobin. Head Start staff inform parents of the results of the screening and discuss any follow-up or treatment that is needed. Early Head Start is a similar program geared for children from birth to three years old.

In addition to providing classroom education for children aged three to five years, PACE has staff who do 1-1/2-hour in-home visits with clients each week. These visits are parent-focused, stressing the parent’s role as their child’s primary teacher. Home visits include a variety of creative parent / child activities such as art, music and stories to promote the child’s growth and development. All areas of the Head Start program, including:  health, education, social services and parent involvement are incorporated into the home visits. Time is spent discussing the child’s progress, planning future activities, and sharing parent and family concerns.

There are also family services specialists who help connect families with resources in the community. They hold programs in the Head Start centers twice each month. Everything in the centers is 100 percent provisioned. To a client, let’s say a young single mother of an infant, this means she could come into a center carrying just her child and leave with infant formula, diapers, and other basic necessities. Please understand, these items are freely given for an important purpose. To help you understand, let’s delve into the mind.

Foundations for Learning

You and I first learned when we were newborns. When we were being held, if we locked eyes with our parent or caregiver and heard them speaking to us, it triggered feelings of security and jump-started our cognitive development. If we didn’t get that, we missed an important piece of the foundation for our learning. Likewise, as infants and toddlers we were vocal about our needs. If we were attended to and cared for, it reinforced our sense of security and we were better positioned for learning. If these needs were not met, then we devoted ourselves to survival.

Survival is a mode that eclipses creative thought and the natural investigative tendencies of children—the very activities that stimulate cognitive development. Unfortunately, survival is too often the default mode for children living in poverty. Many children live amid relational dysfunction, violence, and unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, they are developing more slowly than their peers who are being raised in homes that provide more resources and more order.

PACE Head Start Sites and enrollments
PACE Community Action Agency, Inc. has a grant to provide services for 388 Head Start age children (3-5 yr. olds) and 69 Early Head Start children (birth – 3 yr. olds). They provide this care throughout four counties.
Daviess County Washington Center

(812) 254-6098

96
North Daviess Elementary School – Head Start classroom

(812) 636-8000

18
Knox County Vincennes Head Start Center

(812) 882-7927

142
Bicknell Center

(812) 735-3916

32
Greene County Eastern Greene Elementary School- Head Start Classroom

(812) 825-0153

18
Linton Head Start Center

(812) 847-7687

40
Sullivan County Carlisle Elementary School- Head Start classroom

(812) 398-3851

18

One obvious theme here is family. PACE/Head Start can influence children one-eighth of each weekday for nine months of each year. If these children—96 in the Washington center alone, and there is a waiting list—can be encouraged to thrive and even excel, then they are more likely to achieve greater things as students and to one day create better home lives for their own children. That is why PACE makes resources freely available to its clients.

Head Start and More

The PACE Community Action Agency, Inc. office at 2103 Cosby Road in Washington, Indiana hosts the Daviess County Head Start center. The facility has three classrooms. Each classroom has 16 children, a swath of bright colors, creative learning strategies, a Hatch Early Learning Preschool Computer for Kids, an iPad with age-appropriate software, and the most valuable resources–a teacher and 2 assistants. The school day is divided into two sessions. The first session meets from 8:00-11:30 a.m. The second session is from 12:30-4:00 p.m. Activities are planned so that each child can find success no matter where they are developmentally.

You may not be familiar with Hatch systems. Hatch’s All-in-One computer is designed for the preschool classroom with kid-friendly touchscreen hardware preloaded with iStartSmart learning software that builds early math and literacy skills. It monitors child progress as children play, showing administrators and teachers each child’s progress in skill development.

The second floor has offices for local and visiting staff members, rooms for teaching children with developmental needs, storage for many teaching aids such as manipulatives and blocks, an Early Head Start room, and meeting areas for groups. It also has resources reserved for adults. Head Start is a growing experience for parents and their children. Head Start staff members believe that while they can provide the child with a variety of learning experiences, the parents are the primary teachers of their children.

Resources for Adults

Head Start Parents. PACE makes resources available to parents, too. Upstairs at the Washington center, computers are freely available, providing Internet access for job searches, distance learning, research, or casual browsing. All Head Start parents are encouraged to further their education, whether it is increasing their literacy skills, getting their GED or going to college. Head Start staff members will assist the families by obtaining information and identifying resources that may be able to help. The room next door is separated by a large glass pane and furnished with sturdy toys so parents can bring their younger children and safely supervise them while using the computers.

The second floor is also where Family Services specialists host the bi-monthly programs for families, providing child care, guest speakers who present on a variety of useful topics, and the chance to meet other parents of Head Start students.

Other adults. For community members, PACE has two workstations equipped with Rosetta Stone language learning software. Just sign in at the front desk and use these workstations any time during business hours.

Progress

PACE Site Manager Pamela Padgett envisions a day when PACE has performed so well that it no longer is needed. That day is not near, but it is closer and some of that credit may be yours. Daviess County is a very supportive community where we readily invest in each other. Whether people realize it or not, PACE and Head Start are collaborating today with people at the top levels of many community organizations. Padgett says “It’s exciting that so many community leaders care.” City and county officials have visited the PACE facility on several occasions. (Get quote from J. Wellman or School Superintendent)

De-labeling

What will make the difference and move PACE closer to its goals? “We are at a pivotal point where we will see change,” says Padgett, and “part of the problem is that when you are impoverished and don’t see a future, you feel so alone.” What can make the difference is a mirror of that bond between the newborn and the parent or caregiver. We need to lock eyes and communicate. Ms. Padgett says it so well. “When we see each other simply as people with no labeling, we’ll see change.”

Editor’s Note: You can see this program for yourself. Ms. Padgett invites people to visit and learn more about the programs PACE provides as well as linkages with other community organizations. Call PACE at (812) 254-6098. Their website is www.pacecaa.org.