Idaho Head Start pre-K teachers are continuing their outreach and services to low-income families and children in Southwest Idaho on a remote basis despite the COVID-19 pandemic, serving approximately 610 families and children from Donnelly to Caldwell and Weiser to Payette.
For example, Head Start officials have been working with the Western Idaho Community Action Agency (WICAP) to distribute 93 Chromebook computers donated by the Emmett School District to families in need. They also help with delivering food boxes to families in need.
Idaho Head Start programs serve as a safety net for low income Idaho families by providing free pre-K educational programs to boost school readiness for kids. Statewide, Idaho Health Start programs serve about 4,945 children aged 0-5 in 146 communities and 39 Idaho counties.
Many of the Head Start outreach programs require a computer to allow pre-school teachers to reach students on a remote basis, so the Chromebooks and Internet access are key, officials said.
“Every one of our pre-school teachers has created a Facebook page for their classrooms, and some of them are doing Google Meet video conferencing to do classroom activities,” said Julisa Florez, a Family and Community Partnership Specialist for WICAP Head Start.
“A lot of our families have Internet access, but they might have only one computer device in the household,” Florez said. “So to have access to more computers is going to be a big help to our families in need. If they don’t have Internet access, we’re working to provide mobile hot spot devices to they can be online.”
Kristal Salcido, a pre-K lead teacher at Happy Day Preschool in Caldwell, said the coronavirus has forced teachers to find ways to reach students remotely.
“There is nothing I want more than to be back in the classroom with my students, hugging them, greeting them at the door, reading stories … but since that’s not possible right now, I had to get creative,” Salcido said. “I had to think of simple things that would be easy for families to do at home.”
She developed a series of exercises that kids could work on in a daily activity calendar. The pre-K students are normally in the classroom five days a week for six hours a day. Some activities she’s assigned to her students include doing scavenger hunts, drawing a farm animal, looking for bugs, and reading a book. Students also are working on writing upper case and lower case letters, counting to 20, rhyming words and more.
The classroom Facebook page has been fun to watch for Salcido. “The best part is seeing them and feeling like we are really connecting,” she says. “Learning never stops at Happy Day Preschool, and I am blessed to be part of that.”
“Idaho Head Start and Early Head Start have always served a vital function for low-income families and children in our state, but during this difficult time with the COVID-19 virus, it’s even more crucial that we’re there to support our families and ensure they’re doing OK and their children continue to learn and grow,” said Bill Foxcroft, executive director of Idaho Head Start Association.
In another success story, pre-K student Lorena Zapata Padilla has continued to thrive in pre-K education despite learning and interacting remotely. Lorena was glued to her mom, Mirella, when she was first enrolled in Head Start last fall. She was very shy. She became very upset if she was left alone at preschool, so they tried doing shorter days to begin with over several months.
“We tried different methods to help her make Head Start a fun experience,” says Norma Juarez, child-family educator. “We let Lorena bring a favorite stuffed animal to school. Little by little, with her mom’s and the teachers’ help, Lorena was finally able to get into the routine, and she got on the bus without crying. Knowing that she was going to be able to go back home to mom, helped her come to school with a beautiful smile. We are now able to see Lorena’s personality blossom.”
Since that time, her mom, Mirella Padilla, is taking a very active role in educating her daughter at home.
“Mom is an amazing first teacher to both of her daughters,” Juarez says. “She is always willing to try new things and activities to help Lorena grow her knowledge. During this difficult time, Lorena and Mirella are always participating in video chats, and joining activities that her teacher posts on our Facebook pages. We love having Lorena in our class this school year.”
In another success story, Alicia Gomez spoke about the benefits of enrolling her son, Aiden, in Happy Day Preschool Head Start to work on pre-K education. Aiden entered the program with some speech/motor skills deficiencies, social anxiety, and some health issues related to food allergies and a low-immune system. He also started part-time and worked into a full-time student.
“Entering the program is one of the best things I could have done for my child,” Gomez says. “His social and emotional well-being improved, as did his motor skills. After several months, his social anxiety was slowly disappearing. He has grown so much because of the environment that WICAP Head Start created for him. It’s a safe, fun and loving environment, and it’s great for Aiden to be with kids his own age.”
Preschool teachers are working to continue to make advances with Aiden through remote learning with the Happy Day Preschool. “I’m thankful the program exists, and I can’t wait to see how WICAP continues to affect my son and family in a positive way,” Gomez said.
Ashley, a mother of three young boys under 4 years old, enrolled her kids in Head Start last fall after serving time in prison. Ashley is receiving financial aid services under a Family Partnership plan. She got a job and bought a car. Through Head Start, her children are receiving counseling and one of her boys receives speech therapy.
“She is determined for her kids to know that she loves them and wants to spend time with them,” says Linda Garner, a family services mentor for Head Start. “She is committed to making sure that her children have supportive people and environments in her life, remembering their family time together, and that they have the same commitment to their family as she has for them.”
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, however, Ashley has lost her job and is now trying to make things work with her three boys at home. The WICAP Head Start support team has stayed in touch with her to check in and see how she’s doing on a regular basis.
“I am grateful for the continued support that Head Start is providing,” Ashley says. “From the phone calls, making sure that I have the things that my boys and I need, to the Facebook page, posting lessons, stories, delivering packets, essential materials and supplies on our front porch. Or just having someone to talk to, support and encouragement.”
“Even with some of the health issues with the boys, she has always felt supported by staff, never judged and she has gained consistency and stable love for her and her boys,” Garner said.
For more information, contact Mary Gauthier at Western Idaho Community Action Agency (WICAP) Head Start at www.wicap.org/head-start, 208.642.9086 ex 1023, or on her mobile, 208.741.1617.
This article was provided special to Idaho Education News by Steve Stuebner for the Idaho Department of Labor.