A Head Start for Summit County
BRECKENRIDGE – It’s called child’s play – wooden blocks, plastic puzzles and books filled with fluffy and feathery animals. But most adults underestimate the importance of such simple activities in stimulating the development of young minds.
Those playthings are now stocked in three of Summit County’s elementary schools where preschool programs are now offered thanks to the county’s designation as a Head Start community. And with the help of a newly announced federal grant, child-care experts in schools, nonprofits and other county services will be taking those practices, activities and toys into more homes than they had initially hoped.
Members of Summit County’s Early Childhood Options board, a collection of concerned citizens and educators charged with identifying the needs of area children under the age of 5, applied for and received a 17-month, $363,000 grant from the Child Care Division of the Federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families.
The administration also oversees Head Start programs and funding. Summit County earned the Head Start designation in 2002, with the first Head Start programs opening in the second semester of the past school year.
The federal grant money comes directly to the local level, as opposed to passing through state channels where money often gets absorbed in administration or diverted for other purposes. Four local groups – the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, Early Childhood Options Board, Summit County’s Department of Human Services and the Summit County Early Childhood Council – will augment the grant with a $60,000 matching contribution.
Lucinda Burns, Early Childhood Options chairwoman, said the grant will go a long way toward addressing the needs of Summit County’s youngest citizens. Burns said the money will pay for training for many of Summit’s child-care providers in literacy and development programs. The grant will also provide tuition assistance to some families.
The goal of Head Start and these other programs is to prepare young children, especially those considered disadvantaged, with the academic skills necessary to succeed in school.
“This is really important,” said Thomas Davidson, director of development at Keystone Resort and longtime Early Childhood Options board member. “With the demographics we have in Summit County, especially with the highest percentage of working mothers in the country, this is an extremely big step.”
Head Start families, teachers and other child-care providers celebrated the announcement Saturday at Upper Blue Elementary, where a preschool program was inaugurated this year. County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, whose office announced the grant award, also attended.
“I’m really pleased,” Udall said. “It’s much easier to build a child than to rehabilitate an adult. And this is why I’m proud to represent Summit County – there’s a kind of energy here, in the natural world and in the people who make things like this happen.”
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