September 13, 2016 – Christine Bordelon
Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO), can attest to how important education is, having spent a quarter of a century as a teacher and administrator.
But, early education really can jumpstart a child’s life for future success. It not only changes the student’s life but also the family’s.
“Head Start promotes the social development, the educational development, the physical development and psychological and emotional development of the child,” Sister Marjorie said. “Whenever you get a ‘head start’ on anything, you get a boost.”
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans now operates four Head Start sites with Early Development for children ages 6 months to age 3 and regular Head Start for ages 4-5. Locations are at Incarnate Word (two early, four regular), St. John the Baptist (seven regular) and St. Mary of the Angels (two early, three regular) manned by a staff of approximately 70 seasoned teachers with five to 35 years of experience.
Just this school year, the federal government contracted Catholic Charities to operate an Early Head Start at Covenant House, previously operated by The Urban League and Total Community Action. It’s a fully integrated model with children from Covenant House residents and the community.
“It’s a relationship between Catholic Charities and Covenant House to continue to care for the homeless,” Sister Marjorie said. “Eight of 20 who attend are residents of Covenant House.”
Jim Kelly, CEO of Covenant House, spoke of the strain the mothers of Covenant House have had without Head Start over the past year. He is elated that Catholic Charities has taken over and adopted an integrated model of residents and community members.
“It is the only program like this in the south,” he said. These young mothers are unbelievably brave and resilient. So for these young mothers, Head Start Center provides the opportunity to put their child in an environment of being with loving caregivers, to learn and gives them an opportunity to find employment (to save money and eventually move into their own apartment and start a new life).
Will expand further
The final touches and inspection are being completed at a fifth CCANO Head Start at the St. Paul Catholic Parish campus, slated to open in November. It will be CCANO’s largest site with five Early Head Start classrooms and eight regular Head Starts.
“There was always an interest in opening Head Start in the East because there was nothing out there,” Sister Marjorie said. “There are several populations of people in the Vietnamese community and Hispanic community and still a substantial number of African-American children needing this.”
More than 300 students are enrolled, with the number expected to exceed 490 once St. Paul’s opens.
Way more than babysitting
CCANO Head Start teacher mentor Trenise Perry had worked with El YoYo and St. John the Baptist Head Start and is a strong advocate of Head Start’s parents involvement and homework being sent home even with the Early Head Start children.
“I have seen a big difference with the kids,” Perry said. “You can see the growth in them since we are more aligned with the school system in teaching the kids. At first, parents considered us day care, but since we are implementing everything they need to know to get them ready for kindergarten, the parents are more involved with them doing the work.”
Martin Gutierrez, CCANO’s Division Director under which Head Start falls, certainly had a wake-up call when he began with Head Start.
“When I first got involved with Head Start I used to think of it as day care, but it is not. You are talking about comprehensive services,” he said, adding how he noticed developmental and motor skills when babies were eating breakfast. “They were serving themselves, passing food down to others. Every interaction has a reason.”
“Teachers use everything as a learning opportunity,” CCANO’s Head Start teacher mentor Theresa Goetz said.
Former Head Start students have returned and given positive feedback on how the program prepared them for elementary school. Two included in a video on the CCANO website are siblings Luis Angel Jahuey and Genesis Jahuey.
“When you see the kids when they come back and see the parents out in the mall and they thank you for doing a good job and how they’ve cone a long way and how Head Start prepared their children, it makes us feel good as teachers how we have impacted their lives,” Perry said. “Everybody just thinks ‘Oh Head Start, it’s nothing but day care.’ They don’t see what we do in the classroom with the kids.”
“It’s important to grab these children when they are young and give them an opportunity to grow,” Head Start mentor and former teacher Angela Carter said.
Age-appropriate learning, love
CCANO uses the core Creative Curriculum in its Head Start programs to address social and emotional skills, physical development, math, science, social studies, literacy and language skills, approaches to learning and art. “Each child is exposed to all these in centers every day,” Carter said.
Early Head Start goals include age-appropriate, developmental milestones such as standing, walking, holding a spoon, feeding themselves and potty training (Early Head Start supplies diapers and formula) and school readiness goals to prepare children for the regular Head Start. “All they have to do is bring the child each day,” Goetz said. “We assess their development and assist them if they haven’t reached developmental milestones.
Developing the whole child while teaching independence and how parents can contribute to the mix is Head Start’s goal. Family advocates assure their needs of a family are met, whether it is housing, clothing, food or even a parent desiring to return to school. And, teachers visit each child’s home twice annually.
“To better know the family situation is to better serve the child,” Sister Marjorie said. “Sometimes we have to mediate because of the circumstances. I don’t think we always know what the family unit is at home.”
Parents are also required to get involved and engage students in homework. Even the young ones are sent home with something to do together with their parent, even something as simple as tummy time playing.
Head Start also accepts children with special needs. In fact, approximately 10 percent of CCANO Head Start students have special needs.
“We have been challenged to meet the demand of the 10 percent,” Sr. Marjorie said. “Catholic Charities has signed a cooperative agreement with the federal government to provide the Head Start program to everybody for the past two years.”
Sister Marjorie said Head Start has kept up with the changes in education.
“It’s sad that not every child has the opportunity for this kind of program,” Sr. Marjorie said.