Giving Kids in Belmont County a Head Start
Free preschool stresses stable family relationships
BELLAIRE — A local preschool program is all about giving children a Head Start in their lives and education.
The federally funded Head Start program has six different sites in Belmont County including Bellaire, Martins Ferry, Barnesville, Flushing, Powhatan and St. Clairsville.
Fran Steed, director of Belmont County Head Start, said what makes the program different from traditional pre-schools is that it also focuses on fostering strong and stable family relationships. Parents — mom and dads — are encouraged to get involved with the school and volunteer their time.
In addition to the traditional educational elements, learning the alphabet and numbers, Head Start also includes education about health and nutrition.
The preschool is free for children 3-5 years old who qualify under federal poverty guidelines; however, 10 percent of the children enrolled can have a family income that is over the limit.
“Our priority is low-income families, but we can accept some who are over-income,” Steed said. “We offer comprehensive services including health, nutrition, safety and, of course, education.”
The Bellaire center is the largest in the county with 76 total children attending. It is in the former Indian Run school building that was once used by the Bellaire City School District.
The children attend four days a week for four hours each day and one Friday per month.
“Our teachers are also family support specialists so they work with the families to achieve any goals they may have, to help them achieve self sufficiency,” Steed said. “We’ve helped with housing, vehicles. We help them reach that goal.”
The Belmont County Head Start is administered under the Community Action Commission of Belmont County.
Founded in 1965, CAC is a private organization that also administers federal, state and local dollars for other programs as well including the HEAP utility assistance, the Emergency Food and Shelter program, the Weatherization program, the Financial Aid for Widows with Dependent Children via the Kelsey Fund, and the HEAP Summer Crisis Program.
The Head Start philosophy is that in order for full growth to occur, a child’s environment can’t lack elements of health, nutrition and education.
“Therefore, we at the Community Action Commission of Belmont County Head Start, desire to provide to the children, parents, staff and community, a program that supports growth and development for the ages and stages of development of all those involved. By providing a broad range of services, experiences, training and support, a person involved can grow into a more confident, secure, healthy and experienced human being,” according to the CAC.
In terms of education, Head Start’s curriculum aims to teach kindergarten readiness, which means they are taught skills such as colors and shapes, identifying the alphabet and letter sounds, reading-related skills, early math, problem solving and social skills.
Each day the students have circle time, small group activities, a large group activity, play outside if the weather permits and free play time. Activities, which are meant to reinforce what they learned in class, are also sent home with the child to complete with help from their parents. Some might say this is an early form of homework.
While at school the students receive a daily lunch and snack served with milk. To help ensure the students stay healthy, Head Start requires the children have a yearly medical checkup. They must also have a dental exam annually.
The program’s teachers are required to have at least an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Each year they must complete 20 hours of professional development training.