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Head Start tries to prepare kids for school and help parents

by Nancy Hamlett

The Head Start Program has a 25-year history, but for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, this is only their fourth year of operation.

In the past, the Valley Head Start Program was administered by the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, but in 1996, the current administration took over the sponsorship with the goal of better serving the community.

Dorothy McCloud is the director of the Washoe Tribe’s Head Start program.

“We felt that is was important to be closely interactive with our community, and that we could better fill that responsibility,” said McCloud. “The focus of Head Start is technically changing to better prepare, not only the children, but the whole family.”

Head Start is designed specifically for children 3-5 years old from low-income families or children who have special needs. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities. They also enjoy playing in a safe environment, and they receive free medical and dental services. The program is totally subsidized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, so there is no cost to attend.

“Our priority is to Indian children, but we do not exclude non-Indian children,” said McCloud. “And we operate from three locations, Dresslerville, Stewart and Woodfords. That way we can reach a far range of children.”

Each location is designed to accommodate 17 children. McCloud wishes that more children could be accepted into the program, but space is a limiting factor.

“Fifty-one children is just a small percentage of what we would like to see enrolled,” said McCloud, “but we are already stretching our seams. We do, however, take applications during the year, as we have a small turnover when students move with their families.”

Judy Martin, program manager, and Darinda Caldera, program assistant, join McCloud in administering the program. A full-time teacher, a full-time teacher’s aide and a cook, who fills a part-time slot, staff each Head Start location.

“Head Start provides a breakfast and lunch every day,” said McCloud. “Our menus are planned by a registered nutritionist-dietician, and they are designed to provide balanced nutrition for the children.

“We have a really good staff – hard working, committed and caring – with education backgrounds in early childhood education. By the year 2002, Health and Human Resources will require that everyone have an associate’s degree or beyond in early childhood. We already are on our way to meeting that requirement.”

A typical day at Head Start begins with the children learning how to wash their hands before a meal. Helpers set the table and then everyone eats breakfast. After breakfast, the children perform assigned chores and then brush their teeth to prepare for the day.

“We utilize meals as a time to teach the children how to pour, to serve, and how to interact during a family meal,” said McCloud. “Not only does it teach the children manners, it develops fine motor skills.”

The teachers and aides employ both educational centers and group learning to teach the curriculum. Students are permitted to participate in the centers of their choice, including a science box, home living and reading.

“New regulations require that we teach the children basic academics,” said McCloud. “Included in our curriculum is recognizing letters, colors, words and their written name. This makes the transition to kindergarten much smoother.”

Another positive affect of the program is the building of self-confidence through socialization, problem-solving and improved listening and speaking skills. The program provides children with activities that help them grow mentally, socially, emotionally and physically.

McCloud is also interested in including parents in the program. She said that parents are the first and most important teachers of their children.

“We encourage parents to come to the class to play, assist, to go on field trips. We even send home ‘homework’ so that the parents can get involved,” said McCloud.

At a pre-service training, McCloud invited parents to attend.

“It’s important that parents learn and then share what they’ve learned with their children,” said McCloud. “I was a Head Start parent when my two children were growing up in Reno. It prepared me to be a better parent. And ever since, I have always been involved in my children’s education.”

McCloud said that the program is planning a Head Start Social Powwow on Sept. 23 to celebrate National Indian Day.

“As most of our students are Indian, it is important for them to learn about their heritage,” said McCloud. “The details are still sketchy, but we hope to have a drum group from Reno. They are all Head Start graduates. And, of course, the community is invited to attend.”

She said that she jumped at the opportunity to direct the Head Start Program.

“I wanted to work for my tribe and community, but I also wanted to give back to the Head Start program,” said McCloud.

“The reaction of a 3-year-old entering the program – often they’ve never been out of the home – and the progress that child makes is truly remarkable. I believe in the benefits of Head Start. I believe in how it can work.”

For more information about the Head Start program, call McCloud at 265-4191.