Head Start programs face unique back-to-school challenges amid pandemic

Head Start programs face unique back-to-school challenges amid pandemic
Updated: Aug. 6, 2020 at 5:17 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Head Start programs throughout six counties of Greater East Texas are gearing up for the first day of school and childcare, and they’re finding unique challenges of their own.

More than 800 children between the ages of six weeks and four-years-old are served. In addition, their parents, many of whom are lower-income, are also helped.

Head Start teacher Rosa Gonzalez prepares learning centers for her 4-year-old students. She knows this year, more than ever she’ll be doing a lot of disinfecting. Children will be designated to small groups as an added precaution.

”We sanitize the area where they play,” she explained. ”So we’re going to be moving the same group, Group 1, clean up, to the next area.”

Education is the priority, along with cleanliness.

”Definitely making sure the teachers are active with the kids, but careful with the kids, also,” said Colleen Howard, center supervisor.

Among the first purchases was an automated thermometer kiosk. It will free up staff and become a contact tracing tool.

”We actually are able to load our staff into a database, and it will recognize them and track them each time they come in, tracking their temperature,” said Weldon Beard of GETCAP Head Start.

A child-size portable unit is available; a development since COVID-19.

Still, only half of the Head Start parents say they’ll let their child come back to school. Some have no choice; they simply can’t leave their jobs.

”So we’re constantly exploring those things and trying to find ways to help our families,” Beard said.

Classes resume Aug. 31, Monday through Thursday. Fridays are reserved to distribute a week’s worth of meals for the children staying home.

Head Start facilities have little to no virtual learning devices. Beard said he’s looking into funding sources while also providing families with resources to help with rent and utilities.

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