Catching up with Head Start

Published 9:40 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Head Start program in Suffolk has been through some hard times in recent years, but things look like they’ve turned around, and none too soon for the at-risk youngsters the program seeks to serve.

The program was unceremoniously halted by the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project in February 2011 because of budget problems. Parents and others learned of the suspension via a letter posted on the door of the facility. STOP officials would not answer questions at the time, and clients were left in limbo until the program was temporarily taken up by Community Development Institute.

Things finally improved for Suffolk’s version of the federal program, which strives to make sure that low-income and other at-risk children do not fall through the educational cracks, when The Children’s Center took control of it. That Western Tidewater institution has a long history of doing good work on behalf of kids, and under its administration, Head Start grew to 10 classrooms in Suffolk.

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But last year’s sequestration nightmare at the federal level hit the program hard, and The Children’s Center lost $250,000 of its budget, ultimately resulting in the reduction of 28 Head Start and 18 Early Head Start slots and the closing of one of the Head Start classrooms.

Some of the children who were unable to get into Head Start were able to find places in the school district’s pre-kindergarten program. Others were not so lucky.

Fortunately, the budgetary problem was temporary. Head Start funding was restored in July, the slots that had been closed were restored, and classrooms are set to reopen.

The Children’s Center already plans to re-apply for the program once its current term expires. That’s good news for at-risk children and their families in Suffolk.