Head Start: Foundation for successful education

Marion County’s Head Start preschool programs help children get ready for kindergarten. Lesli Beery, Marion’s Head Start teacher, emphasizes the importance of teaching social-emotional along with academic skills. “They need a good, solid social-emotional foundation before those academic skills can even be learned,” Beery said. “It’s like a pyramid. If you don’t have those foundational social-emotional skills, those academic skills cannot be built on top of that.”
Marion County’s Head Start preschool programs help children get ready for kindergarten. Lesli Beery, Marion’s Head Start teacher, emphasizes the importance of teaching social-emotional along with academic skills. “They need a good, solid social-emotional foundation before those academic skills can even be learned,” Beery said. “It’s like a pyramid. If you don’t have those foundational social-emotional skills, those academic skills cannot be built on top of that.”
Head Start, a community-based program, operates in Marion and Hillsboro and serves children ages 3 and 4 and their families who live in USD 408 and USD 410 school districts.

“When they meet income guidelines, it’s free,” said Lesli Beery, a teacher in Marion. “It’s a free service, which is awesome.”

One difference between the county’s two programs is funding. Marion only receives federal funding from Head Start, Beery said.

ASHLEY SHERIDAN, Hillsboro: “The unique thing about Hillsboro preschool is that we’re collaborative, so we work with Head Start funding, special education funding, Kansas Pre-K, which used to be known as the 4-year-old At-Risk.”
ASHLEY SHERIDAN, Hillsboro: “The unique thing about Hillsboro preschool is that we’re collaborative, so we work with Head Start funding, special education funding, Kansas Pre-K, which used to be known as the 4-year-old At-Risk.”

Hillsboro’s Head Start also receives state funding, said Ashley Sheridan, who teaches in Hillsboro.

“The unique thing about Hillsboro preschool is that we’re collaborative, so we work with Head Start funding, special education funding, Kansas Pre-K, which used to be known as the 4-year-old At-Risk,” Sheridan said.

While income guidelines qualify the majority of students in Head Start, both Marion and Hillsboro have spots reserved for children with special needs as well as peer positions, where families pay a monthly tuition.

“Every family receives all the services, whether they are there for special needs, peer or Head Start, it doesn’t matter,” said Beery, who has taught with Head Start for nine years.

“Most people can’t tell the difference walking into the classroom, which is child which,” she added.

As a collaborative effort with USD 418 in McPherson County, Head Start programs in Marion County were established by a grant submitted by USD 418.

“It was an expansion grant versus a new grant,” she said. “When Marion County decided it wanted Head Start, there were no new grants being offered that year. There were expansion grants but not new ones.

“So that’s why McPher­son is our grant holder,” she added. “So we are considered under USD 418, but we serve Marion County.”

The age requirements are 3 and 4 by Aug. 31 of that year.

A total of 34 children—17 in each half-day session—can be accepted into Marion’s program. At Hillsboro, 17 children meet in the morning session and 20 in the afternoon.

ELAINE EWERT, Marion: “With the families we make a goal, family goals. Maybe someone wants to go back to school. That could be a goal. Maybe they just want to be more organized.”
ELAINE EWERT, Marion: “With the families we make a goal, family goals. Maybe someone wants to go back to school. That could be a goal. Maybe they just want to be more organized.”

Elaine Ewert, Head Start family advocate in Marion for the past eight years, said because of family transitions, Marion wasn’t able to keep all its spots filled throughout the entire school year.

“We do keep a waiting list,” Ewert said. “I take applications all year long.”

As openings occur, Ewert said new students are accepted.

In Marion, those who want to apply can call 620-755-4351. Hillsboro families call 620-755-4259.

Children do not have to be potty trained to be accepted in Head Start.

“That is the one thing that we have over everybody else is they do not have to be potty trained,” Ewert said. “We usually start with five who are not potty trained.”

Beery added, “They’re usually all done by Christmas. That is something the other preschools cannot do because they don’t have the staff. We’re lucky to have two paras in the classroom, and me.”

At Marion, the paras are Jane O’Connor and Norma Druse. Shawna Hake is the early childhood special education teacher.

“We have a really wonderful, wonderful team, and with 17 children, our ratio is a little over five kids to one teacher,” Beery said.

Family advocates Ewert in Marion and Bonnie Gaeddert in Hillsboro prioritize supporting families of children in Head Start.

“With the families we make a goal, family goals,” Ewert said. “Maybe someone wants to go back to school. That could be a goal. Maybe they just want to be more organized.”

Ewert said she makes four home or office visits a year with parents to discuss and set goals as well as check in on their progress.

“I provide lots of information,” she added.

The advocates also connect families to needed resources, Ewert said, plus she meets with the parents to plan group events.

Beery said she also has regular contact with parents so they know exactly where their child is and how the child is doing developmentally and academically.

As Head Start teacher at Hillsboro, Sheridan begins her fourth year teaching preschoolers with USD 410 in fall.

“We really do push the kindergarten readiness, which ultimately I think is the goal for preschool,” said Sheridan, who completed a dual master’s degree in early childhood and early childhood special education in May.

Children learn skills such as writing their names, counting to 30 and knowing the alphabet.

“We really cover social skills,” she added.

Those skills include learning how to share, how to play with new friends and how to communicate.

At Hillsboro, the children eat their meals family-style.

“The Head Starts have gone to kids going to the cafeteria, but we still get to do the family-style meals,” Sheridan said. “The kids get to learn portion control, table manners and cleaning up after themselves…in a different setting (than home).”

Linda Peters is the special education teacher at Hillsboro, with Loni Mayfield as the special education para and Averi Haris as the Head Start para.

Curriculum helps structure outcomes for the students.

“We are using the Creative Curriculum this year, which is a curriculum that is basically theme-based, and all of their motor, cognitive, math, literacy—everything is imbedded right into the curriculum.”

To enhance the students’ learning experiences, Beery invites volunteers to assist with her classes.

“We started with Mr. Dan, the Science Man, who comes in and does science with us,” she said. “It’s Dan Madgwick from Cibotech Labs.

“He comes in periodically throughout the year. This year he did egg experiments, he erupted a volcano, and he made a tornado in a box when we studied Kansas.”

As part of a diversity emphasis, Beery said she also brings in individuals who tell stories and show pictures and souvenirs about their travels to other countries.

The children each have their own “passport.”

“They draw something they learned about, and they then get a stamp in their passport,” she said. “Then at the end of the year they get to take their passport home, which has been a really cool way to open up the classroom to community members.”

The children also go on at least two field trips a year, Beery said, adding she alternates them so those children in the program for two years don’t repeat trips.

Last year the preschoolers learned about zoo animals through Zoo Tales and visited Serenity Gardens, she said.

Asked about the benefits of early childhood education, Beery, Ewert and Sheridan agree.

All children need to learn academic skills early but they also need a solid social-emotional foundation to facilitate learning those skills.

Beery said, “I believe that early education and early group education—such as preschool and Parents as Teachers—really promotes those social skills they need for later learning and just for getting along in life.”