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Head Start reopens

Preschool program secures private funding

POSTED: October 9, 2013 4:00 a.m.
David Renner Dawson Community News/

Parents and teachers at the local Head Start program spent what they believed was their last day at the school Friday.

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The Ninth District Head Start program was open Tuesday, thanks to private funding.

Staff and parents were notified Monday that the preschool program was reopening, said Kay Laws, Head Start director for Ninth District Opportunity.

The program closed Monday due to the government shutdown, which coincided with the beginning of the federal program's grant cycle.

Ninth District Opportunity's Head Start covers 20 Georgia counties, including Dawson.

Before the word on reopening had come down, teachers at the local Head Start program, located off of Allen Street across from the library, were initially worried that students would suffer.

Teacher Bethany Goines said staff had been "just telling the kids we're having a fall break."

"The kids that struggle with separation anxiety have gotten to where they don't cry anymore in the mornings," Goines said. "Now, with this ... [we were] afraid they [were] going to regress and have that anxiety all over again."

The primary concern for officials was the ability for parents to be able to find and afford child care on such short notice, which was given on Oct. 2.

"If you're needing someone to watch your children for a day or two, you might could locate family, friends, whatever," Laws said at the time. "But if you're having to plan for three or four weeks, then you'll have to look at different options."

After hearing about the Head Start dilemma, Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold donated $10 million to the National Head Start Association, temporarily funding programs across six states, including Georgia.

Laura Arnold is an ex-oil company executive and John Arnold is an investor. They chair The Arnold Foundation, a philanthropic organization established in 2008.

The annual grant for Ninth District's is $19.8 million alone.

According to a news release, if the government funds Head Start for the full year when the shutdown is over, the local programs will repay the funds made available by the national association at no interest.

The funding should keep Head Start programs open through the end of October.

"We are hopeful that the federal government will have worked out the budget by this time, and our grant funds will be available once again," Laws said. "In the meantime, we will be only making purchases that are necessary."

Margie Nichols, the grandparent of a child who attends the local Head Start program, said she thought it was "sad that the kids have to suffer."

"It's very hard for children this age to make adjustments," she said last week.

Nichols' grandchild is one of the special needs students at Head Start.

"Margie's grandchild receives services from us and from the board of education through the special needs program," said Barbara Padgett, Head Start Center Director.

Padgett had worked out arrangements with the school system to service their special needs students at Riverview Elementary.

The pre-K program run at Riverview Elementary continued to operate on a normal basis, according to Dawson County superintendent Keith Porter.

"There will be no cessation of pre-K services at Riverview Elementary," he said. "We've been waiting for any kind of word and, based on not hearing anything, we've found it safe to assume the funding for those programs is fine."

Unlike some students, the teachers didn't have much of an alternative plan until Head Start opened again.

"I've been working with children for 21 years and I've never seen anything like this," said Theresa Mitchell, a teacher.

Staff writer David Renner contributed to this report.


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