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Head Start makes push to enroll more Detroit kids

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Head Start has launched a sweeping enrollment campaign in Detroit — its first here — to sign up families for 500 open spots in 60 facilities that will offer early childhood education and other resources to low-income families across the city.

The program also will include prenatal and health care, and job training for parents. Each family gets $7,000 worth of services at no cost, officials said.

The Detroit Head Start Learning Network launched to help parents and caregivers locate a center in their neighborhood, hear from Head Start parents and teachers, schedule a visit and start the enrollment process.

Spots are available for pregnant mothers, children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old and their families. Programs run year-round or during the school year.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for families. They need to know about it so they can take advantage of it. There are slots and centers in every neighborhood on the city of Detroit. They are easily accessible,” Harris said. “We know there are still families out that don’t know Head Start even exists. We want to connect those families who are so passionate to those who don’t know.”

Nearly 31 million Americans have attended Head Start since its inception 50 years ago, according to the National Head Start Association.

Last year, 1,149 Early Head Start slots for Detroit babies and children up to age 3 were funded by the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services overseeing Head Start. In 2013, the program had funded only 96 such slots.

As of June, a little more than 50 percent of the slots were filled. Numbers were low because many of the agencies involved were in start-up mode in 2014 and focused on licensing facilities and hiring staff, not recruiting families, said Annemarie Harris, facilitator and consultant to the Detroit Head Start Learning Network.

Spreading the word about the free Head Start services has been the focus of the campaign, Harris said. Recruiters are going door to door, posting fliers and holding programs in many of Detroit’s neighborhoods. Advertisements have run on local radio and TV stations.

Foundations in Michigan have come together to support early childhood education in Detroit.

Last fall, the largest expansion of Head Start in Detroit’s history was made possible by the collaboration of eight major foundations and $2 million in grants to providers.

That investment was used to leverage and support a $48 million federal investment in Head Start programs in Detroit.

The Troy-based Kresge Foundation has committed $20 million over five years to build out a high-quality early childhood development system in Detroit in collaboration with local, state and federal partners.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, is also supporting the campaign with a $22 million investment in Michigan. Of that, $7.5 million will go to grantees in Detroit.

Teacher Michelle Turner, who works at Renaissance Head Start, said parents can get workforce training, health and nutrition education, and prep for their GEDs while their children are exposed to an early education in a loving environment.

“We serve children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, period. There is too much positive here going on not to take advantage of it,” she said.

Leah Benford enrolled her two daughters in Head Start programs last year and the girls are headed back this fall.

Benford, 34, was attending college to earn her bachelor of science degree while her daughters, Ah’ vaya, 3, and Ambyr, 2, were getting an education of their own.

“It’s very important to me that my children have a firm foundation going into grade school,” she said.

“It’s been an awesome experience. I’ve got to know other parents. The school has parent meetings to let us know what’s going on. My kids are safe. They’re learning and playing with their friends. I would tell other parents to just give it try.”

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About Head Start

What: The program, founded in 1962, is overseen by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and provides early childhood education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income families. The Detroit Head Start program is early education for low-income families. It serves babies, children, pregnant mothers, fathers, and families. About 3,000 Detroit families are enrolled in the program and each family gets $7,000 worth of services at no cost.

Where: There are centers in Michigan and Metro Detroit and across the nation.

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