In an age when child care is critical, Early Head Start in Cripple Creek expanded its services to include space for eight infants. “This the most exciting news,” said Sara McChesney, director of Early Head Start and Head Start.
It’s all good news lately for both programs which recently aced a federal review, scoring in the top 10 percent for academic/social/emotional support and classroom environment.
“I actually cried because we worked so hard,” McChesney said. “It was really important for all of us, not just because of the amount of work but the impact on the community.”
Early Head Start serves clients from pre-birth (pregnant mothers) to three years while Head Start is for children from three to five years old.
For Head Start, the curriculum this year takes a page from the Montessori method of learning which focuses on helping children gain independence. “Students do their own work, clean up after themselves and have more self-control,” said Mandy McCreary, Head Start instructor.
The method is a hit. “The response from the children has been incredibly overwhelming,” McChesney said. “The kids have loved the structure, the routine and the curriculum, which goes nicely with Head Start performance standards.”
Last year, both programs served 43 children who qualify under the federal guidelines, which include families who earn less than the federal poverty line of $21,000 for a family of four, homelessness, foster care or whose families receive funds through the Department of Human Services.
“This is in accordance with the Head Start Act which was written by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the ’60s to serve the neediest of the needy,” McChesney said.
McChesney oversees a staff of 15 who are certified in the Head Start programs. “A lot of times when we meet our families – and God love them – they are going through something – and we get them at their lowest point when they’re raw,” McChesney said.“Kids pick up on family stresses and crises.”
As a result, Head Start offers strategies to help children who struggle with social and emotional issues, McChesney said. The strategies, Pyramid Plus and Second Step, are part of the Creative Curriculum, the Montessori-based instructional method.
“The children are gaining self-soothing and self-help skills and feel really proud of the work they’re doing every day,” McChesney said.
The program includes two annual home visits. “Some of our participants are homeless; they might live in a pop-up camper or they’re crashing on someone’s couch every night,” she said. “These are the struggles of Teller County.”
However, the teachers work around obstacles so that parents can talk. “The visit can happen in the home, school, coffee shop or playground, wherever the parent feels most comfortable,” McChesney said.
The program serves 93 children, 23 in Early Head Start, 20 in Head Start and 50 in places where the caregiver shares a grant-funded partnership with the program — in Woodland Park and Florissant.
The three programs are funded by a $1.5 million federal grant. “We don’t know day-to-day whether or not we’ll have the funding but the best thing we can do is to be in compliance, to operate with fidelity and put our hearts and souls into this,” McChesney said. “Because that will demonstrate to the feds, to our county and our district that early childhood is important — I would argue, the most important in terms of success.”
The Head Start programs are based in Cresson Elementary School in Cripple Creek where children can stay all day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is two years ahead of the federal mandate. As well, Head Start provides transportation for children at least three years old.
To accommodate working parents, children and infants can be dropped off at 7:30 a.m.and picked up at 4:30 p.m. “Everything is included, diapers, wipes, food, clothing, formula, in addition to family support services,” she said. “We do it all.”