Construction of a new Head Start program site broke ground on April 15. Construction of the $1.8 million facility adjacent to Calaveras Elementary School is expected to be completed by Aug. 1, according to Antonio Fuentes, director of early learning services with the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which oversees the local program. Head Start stems from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and works to prepare young children from low-income families for school.
The new building will have three classrooms to serve 66 children up to five years old. Two classrooms will be dedicated to pre-school age children, and one will serve infants and toddlers up to three years old.
Fuentes said one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Head Start is that it is a daycare service.
“We’re early-learning services and there is a science behind it,” he said. “Teachers are credentialed. They need to have the early childhood education credits to be in the classroom. This is not childcare, it is preschool education to prepare them before going into kindergarten.”
There will also be a playground, he said, because kids also learn while playing, interacting and socializing. He said children learn from the time they show up and sit down together for a family-style breakfast.
“They’re sitting together around the table, they’re sharing and they’re communicating with each other,” Fuentes said. “There’s a lot of socialization going on and that’s reinforced at home. They learn how to serve themselves and have conversations with other kids.”
According to Site Director Rocio Urbina-Litle, the curriculum is play-based.
“They’re learning about reading, math, social skills and fine-motor skills,” she said, “from Teaching Strategies, which designs the curriculum.”
Federal poverty guidelines are used to determine eligible families.
“Families earning $25,000 or less qualify,” Fuentes said. “We also blend program money from state and federal funds. In the state guidelines, a family of four earning $75,000 or less qualifies. There’s disparity between the two and that’s the struggle we run into and why we have to use funding from both in order to deliver the curriculum the kids are entitled to, delivered in a way that makes sense with the cost of living here.”
Fuentes said another misconception people have about the program is that the education is geared only toward the children. He said Head Start looks at parents as the first teachers and that they need to be engaged, so they too are involved in the curriculum.
“We have family advocates who provide backpacks to the parents to reinforce and connect to the curriculum the children are learning in the classroom,” Fuentes said. “They do things like, you’re baking a cake and you need measurements of water or milk. That’s learning math skills.”
Urbina-Litle said the current Head Start facility on Line Street near R. O. Hardin Elementary School will remain open and the two facilities will serve the community together. Both sites will offer three programs: a double-session schedule of three and a half hours in the mornings and afternoons, and a full-day schedule from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There’s also a single session planned to run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Urbina-Litle said families are already registering at the Line Street office for their children to enter the new site. She said people can also call (408) 453-6900 or register online at myheadstart.org.
Fuentes said Head Start works closely with nearby schools, and Urbina-Litle said the program collaborates with the San Benito County Office of Education to include special needs students.
“With those students, when they come into the classroom their teacher comes, as well,” she said.
Each child is assessed and it’s determined if they need an Individual Education Program (IEP) to identify what services they need, Fuentes said. The IEP goes with the child when they enter elementary school.
Fuentes said the project is dear to him because he once lived in Hollister. He said his kids didn’t have a lot of opportunities to get involved with preschool programs.
“I’m the director now and I’m seeing we don’t have enough facilities,” he said. “When we were looking at this project it got to a point where we thought it wouldn’t get off the ground. I asked colleagues at the federal and state level to let me know if it wasn’t going to happen because I had to go back to that community to let them know. I didn’t want to come back and say I couldn’t build it. It took 18 months to break ground.”
Fuentes said there remains even more need than the two facilities can provide.
“This is just a drop in the bucket and we need to have more facilities,” he said, adding that there will be a need for more teachers.