Head Start celebrates 30 years in system

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 22, 1999

By STACEY PLAISANCE / L’Observateur / February 22, 1999

Head Start Centers in St. John the Baptist Parish were placed into thearms of the public school system 30 years ago, a move which has since enabled the program to expand and improve its services for children of low-income families.

A ceremony and reception for Head Start founders and current employees were held in conjunction with the Dec. 3, 1998 St. John Parish SchoolBoard meeting, marking 1998 the 30th anniversary for Head Start’s adoption by the school system.

Head Start is a federally-funded program that, with 30 years of support from the parish school system, has made strides in the way of service and education, said Precious Joseph, Head Start director for St. John sinceSeptember 1998.

Many Head Start programs throughout the state are run independent of the school system, often making quality and funding difficult, Joseph said.

The school system has provided buildings, facilities and a professional, qualified staff for the St. John Parish Head Start. “That makes such a big difference, and we’re fortunate,” Joseph said. “Theschool system makes sure our teachers are degreed and certified and provides a structured, safe environment for the children, and we have great building facilities.”The Head Start Centers are located at West St. John Elementary School inEdgard and the St. John Child Development Center in Garyville. There areseven classes with 20 children in each at the CDC, and WSJE has one class with 20 children. The program accepts children 4 years of age whosefamilies are within certain income guidelines. Bus transportation is alsoprovided.

Other services provided by Head Start are sound educational programming, nutritional programs, social services, parental involvement and both medical and dental health services.

The program has come a long way since its beginning more than 30 years ago, Joseph said. The program began during the parish’s Police Jurysystem, where in 1965 a group of people were assembled and assumed the task of making opportunities for children whose families were unable to afford daycare and preschool services. This effort gave rise to the HeadStart Program in St. John Parish.A few years later, under the grant-writing efforts of Henry Y. Harris, theprogram was awarded to the St. John Parish School Board.Now 30 years later, Joseph said there is a need to expand the program and building capacity in order to serve more families in the area and accommodate the current waiting list.

“The need is there, and I would like to see our services expanded to children under age 4,” she said. “Eventually we will have to expand.”Joseph said she has high expectations of the program during the next year and hopes the centers receive national accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

“This recognition is the Cadillac of programs,” Joseph said. “It says thatyou are providing the best services, best staff, and you are comparable to other programs nationwide.”NAEYC provides three-year certification recognized nationally and updates education and service standards periodically.

“They come in to monitor and make sure that you are keeping up with their standards,” Joseph said. “We are concentrating on various areas of theirevaluations, and we hope to be certified by next year.”

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