Malachi Burger is 5. He’s been going to school since he was 6 weeks old.

His mother, Ruth Burger, recounts a typical session when he was 4 months old. The teacher held him on her lap, recited the alphabet, told a story, then then took his little hand and helped him draw squiggles on paper. He was intrigued by the play.

The lessons are part of the Community Partners for Child Development’s Early Head Start program for pregnant women and children from birth to 3.

CPCD in Colorado Springs also administers the Head Start preschool program for children 3 to 5 in El Paso County, and the Colorado Preschool Program for at-risk children in six local school districts. The mission is to provide educational, physical and behavioral health and nutritional services, says Claire Sanderson, CPCD spokeswoman. The free programs serve about 2,300 clients a year, mainly children living in poverty or challenged by special circumstances.

Seven years ago, Burger was starting college when she saw an ad for Head Start. She was skeptical, not sure preschool was necessary. But after talking with staff, she enrolled her son Caleb, then 3, and found it “amazingly helpful in getting him ready for school.”

Two years later, she enrolled her daughter Olivia who has Down syndrome and autism, and who studied under an individualized education plan.

But Malachi’s extended experience was even more beneficial because of that additional time. Burger said. Being enrolled in Early Head Start from age 6 weeks to age 3, and then attending the Head Start program age 3 to 5 greatly improved his vocabulary and socio-emotional skills. He started public school kindergarten this fall, knowing the alphabet, shapes, numbers, can do simple math and write his name. He engages in the projects, conducts himself appropriately in the classroom and with his peers.

When Malachi was enrolled in the early childhood program, he received child care and education two days a week, for seven hours. Since then, CPCD has expanded Early Head Start to five days a week, seven hours a day, Burger said.

The free child care component is especially critical. “It is really hard for low-income parents to find day care they can afford. Parents can spend as much on child care for their children the first three years of life, as they would to attend a state college.”

Parental engagement is also an important part of the CPCD programs. There are classes in nutrition, parenting, wellness, and activities such as a book club. Some parents volunteer in classrooms, are bus monitors, help in the office, all which help build their family skills and job resumes. Burger wanted a voice in her children’s education, so she became part of the CPCD’s Parent’s Policy Council and Board of Directors, and eventually served as a parent representative on the Colorado Head Start Association. Burger works as a certified nurse’s aide caring for her daughter, and has started on her master’s degree in business. She is teaching a wellness class for CPCD.

“I just know I wouldn’t be as successful and we wouldn’t be as stable a family today without the resources of CPCD.”

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