University News

Public Invited to Help Celebrate 20 Year Anniversary of SUU Head Start

Published: October 14, 2004 | Author: Renee Ballenger | Category: Special Events

The Head Start program of Southern Utah University is celebrating its 20th anniversary on October 21, and the public is invited to an Open House.

Head Start, a federally-sponsored school readiness program, was implemented nationally in 1965 to meet the needs of disadvantaged children across the country. Currently there are close to a million American children benefiting from 1300 Head Start programs, and Cedar City has one of the most dynamic.

Twenty years ago, Virginia Higbee (SUU alumni), Executive Director of SUU Head Start, wrote the grant that brought Head Start to SUU and Cedar City. At the program’s beginning in 1983, SUU’s Head Start served 56 families; today, it serves about 400 families in 22 centers in six Utah counties.

“Head Start is so much more than just a place to drop off your kids,” Virginia states. She elaborates that it is even “much more than just an educational piece,” and reveals, “We feel we are doing valuable things in teaching the love of learning.” She is careful to point out that the objective of the Head Start program is not a duplication of kindergarten, but, “really, it is designed to help very young children ‘learn how to learn.’” In other words, it’s giving four and five-year-olds a “head start” on learning before they enter the public school system.

Family income, family size, and particular needs of a child or his family determine eligibility to take advantage of the Head Start Pre-School and Head Start Child Care. There is always a waiting list of children to get into Head Start, Virginia explains.

Children from a variety of ethic backgrounds, including Hispanic, Korean, Japanese, Mexican and Native American, makes for cultural experiences for all students, broadening the learning aspect even more. “By the end of the year, we have kids in the program going home and translating for their parents who don’t speak any English,” Virginia exclaims.

Head Start teaches social and emotional issues; language, math, literacy, and motor skills; and creative arts and life skills, like the importance of personal hygiene, and even anger management.

The SUU Head Start, Virginia says, is “a program for families, that is working.” Parents are almost “required” to be involved, and reports show that they are, at an impressive level, and one that is making a difference for the children’s preparation to be successful in the public school system.

Head Start undergoes periodic reviews by the regional Health and Human Services agency (based in Denver). During these visits, the SUU Head Start is evaluated on almost 400 different teaching indicators.

The grant comes with the provision that each Head Start location matches the government funds. The matching comes in the form of rent subsidies, donations and volunteers. “The volunteers are key to the life of the southwestern Head Start program,” Virginia declares.

SUU’s Head Start program benefits SUU Teacher Education students too. The former program has long provided practicum experiences for SUU students in elementary education, early childhood education, sociology, and even for accounting and nursing students.

The public is invited to help celebrate 20 years of SUU Head Start in Cedar City by attending the Open House on Thursday, October 21, from 3-5 p.m., at the Cedar City Center at 2390 West Highway 56, Suite #1.

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