Get ready. Get set. Grow!
There’s a preschool in town where the children can dictate their daily activities and parents are the primary educators. Teachers are facilitators for learning and discovery.
The Truckee Pines Head Start Program, the local branch of the long-standing national program, has been offering low-income families, young Spanish speakers and students with special education needs a positive educational alternative for quite some time.
“Our main goal at Head Start is to get the children excited about learning, so that when they do reach kindergarten, they’ll be ready and wanting to learn,” said Jan Peters, the school’s director. “We want to turn them into little sponges who will be ready to absorb all of the information presented to them in school.”
On this particular day, students learned about their bodies from a local nurse who brought in a bag of medical instruments for the eager group of 3- and 4-year-olds to explore and play with.
Besides interaction with the community, Peters said the aspect that really sets Head Start apart from other preschools is the focus on parental involvement.
“The parents are the real teachers for Head Start,” Peters said. “We’re mainly here to support families and to make sure that parents and children have everything they need to be successful. Our parents are just wonderful. All of the children here are well-loved and well-taken care of.”
Aside from a variety of social services, medical screenings and the assistance of a family advocate, Head Start staff performs routine home visits and parent meetings to encourage and ensure parental involvement in their children’s curriculum and educational goals.
The idea of Head Start was first conceived in 1965, under the direction of President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a way to increase the school readiness of children from low-income families.
Today, the program, which is federally funded and administered, offers a variety of services in the areas of education and child development including medical, mental and dental health and nutrition.
According to Head Start teacher and family advocate Katherine Randall, the school’s structure and activities are based on the idea that students should have the right to choose and plan their activities.
“The kids are really in charge of what they’re doing,” said Randall, who has more than 30 years of teaching experience under her belt. “Each day we set up stations and let the children decide where they want to work and play. For instance, if someone wants to read a book in the corner all day, that’s okay. We’re just here to help them along with their learning and development.”
According to Randall, a typical day at Head Start begins with breakfast, tooth brushing and a health check. Then, after a “circle time” of stories, songs and presentations, students plan out what they want to do for the day.
“Then after work time, we come together to review what we did that day and encourage the children to talk about what they learned and what they think about the activities they participated in,” Randall said. “This is an extremely social program. Kids get a lot of opportunities for conversation and sharing, as well as to learn manners and problem-solving techniques.”
Head Start caters to Spanish speakers and special needs students as well, with a bilingual aide who translates everything that is said and done, special education teachers and even physical therapists to work with students with special needs.
“Currently, about half of our students are Spanish speakers, while last year, almost 95 percent of them were,” Peters said, referring to the wide range of applicants each year.
The school, which in the past was shuffled between community members’ homes and local churches, now resides in a well-lit classroom off of Highway 267 at the Truckee Pines Apartments, complete with a sizable play structure and yard.
“We like to get the kids outside for at least an hour a day, even if it’s snowing,” Randall said. “The kids are fully equipped for all kinds of weather with mittens, hats and boots.”
Head Start also offers a foster grandparent component which provides local seniors and students with an opportunity for meaningful interaction.
“Especially when you’re older, it brings you so much joy to be able to spend time with young children,” said foster grandmother Marion Hall, as several students hovered around, competing for her attention. Hall, a resident of the Truckee Senior Apartments located next to the school, has been volunteering her time at Head Start four days a week for the last five years.
“This is a truly wonderful program that really prepares students for school and exposes many children to English for the first time,” Hall said in a thick English accent. “It’s been especially great this year to see the incorporation of the special needs children. It’s wonderful to have all of these children playing and learning together.”
The Truckee Pines Head Start program is currently accepting applications for the following school year. All applications must be completed by the end of May. For more information, call 587-3062 or stop the school by 10100 Estates Drive.