Summit County Head Start program recognized for success while Colorado child poverty rate rises
Ryan Summerlin April 9, 2014
key findings in the 2014 kids count report
Colorado’s teen birth rate has improved. Since 2000, the teen birth rate for girls 15 to 19 fell by half.
The number of children in food-insecure households declined as SNAP participation increased. On average, between 2010 and 2012, 19 percent of Colorado kids lived in food-insecure households, down from 21 percent between 2007 and 2009.
Colorado continues to make progress at decreasing the number of uninsured children. On average, between 2010 and 2012, 8 percent of Colorado kids were uninsured, down from 14 percent between 2004 and 2006.
While preschool enrollment increased in recent years, it hasn’t been enough to keep up with the sharp rise in children eligible for, and parents interested in, services like the Colorado Preschool Program.
Child care is still a heavy burden for thousands of Colorado families, both in affordability and availability. Colorado is the fifth-least affordable state for center-based child care for infants and 4-year-olds. The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program helps low-income parents afford child care, but the program doesn’t have the capacity to serve all the families who qualify.
Colorado has significant gaps in child well-being based on race, ethnicity and income. In 2013, Colorado had the nation’s seventh-largest reading achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. These gaps also appear in children’s health. About a third of Hispanic and black children are overweight or obese, for example, compared with less than a quarter of non-Hispanic white children.
The state’s high school graduation rate has improved slowly, reaching 77 percent in 2013, up from 72 percent in 2010.
Forty percent of 2011 Colorado high school graduates who attended a Colorado public college or university needed remediation in at least one subject area.
Source: The 2014 Kids Count in Colorado! report. For more information or to download the full report, visit http://www.coloradokids.org/data/kidscount/2014kidscount.html.
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.