The Summit County Head Start program recently scored among the top 10 percent of Head Start programs in the country.
“We’re fortunate to live in a community that really values early-childhood education,” said Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, an organization promoting a collaborative system of childhood programs in Summit County.
Head Start, a federal grant-funded program, sends qualifying low-income children to preschool for free. The program also connects families with local specialists who can help them improve their health and become more self-sufficient.
Last year, federal reviewers evaluated and rated highly the Head Start programs at Summit County Preschool and at Dillon Valley, Summit Cove, Upper Blue and Silverthorne elementary schools.
What sets the county’s successful program apart, said Elizabeth Lowe, Head Start executive director, is its small size and integration.
Children learn and play in the same rooms as kids whose parents pay tuition.
“It raises the quality for all the kids in the classroom,” Lowe said.
She praised the school district for having the same high expectations for preschool teachers as for those who teach K-12.
Burns said keeping good teachers can be a challenge in a resort community, but the county recruits well-trained teachers and gives them training opportunities if needed.
the statewide picture
Meanwhile, Colorado kids are living in poverty at a higher rate than a couple of years ago, according to the annual Kids Count report released by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
Summit County’s statistics are slightly better than state averages.
The rate of Colorado children qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches in 2013 was about 42 percent. In Summit County that number was about 37 percent, or three of every eight kids.
“We all know Summit County is an expensive place to live, and that makes it difficult for many families,” said Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center. She said most families who lost work during the recession remain underemployed.
Good news for summit county
Burns said that although more local families are living in poverty, the report had some good news for Summit. Indicators for health, education and social services have improved.
Still, she said, 40 percent of Summit’s families have trouble affording food, and one in three children grow up in single-parent households.
With such a transient population, she said, parents don’t have access to extended family members, so they need extra support from the community.
This year, Summit’s Head Start program supports 35 children ages 3 to 5. Early Head Start, for infants and toddlers, started in Summit in 2010 with federal stimulus money and now has 25 kids enrolled.
Burns said she wished Summit’s Head Start programs had enough room for all the families who qualify. The waiting list continues to grow.