Low-income families in Lee’s Summit and their small children will now have the opportunity to get a “head start” on their education, thanks to two new preschool classrooms in the R-7 school district.
The Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education approved a contract with the Mid-America Regional Council in July that will provide two Head Start preschool classrooms during the 2014-15 school year. Head Start is a federally funded instructional program serving low-income, 3- and 4-year-olds.
“It’s the first time we have offered the program here in Lee’s Summit R-7,” said Kerry Boehm, principal at the district’s Great Beginnings Early Education Center. “We have had the program here through the Independence School District in years prior. Independence School District ran the program, and it served some of our Lee’s Summit families.”
Boehm said the early education offered through Head Start will benefit Lee’s Summit R-7 families that cannot afford fee-based community preschool. She added that educational services will close the achievement gap that exists for children who have had no school readiness training before entering kindergarten.
The R-7 program will serve 68 qualifying students with one classroom at Meadow Lane Elementary School and one at Westview Elementary School. Children in the program will attend either a morning or an afternoon session four days each week.
“Staff will be hired through the Lee’s Summit school district,” Boehm said. “They will be a part of our staff instead of the Independence School District staff, and we will be able to serve double the students.”
Initiated at the federal level in 1965, the Head Start program aims to enhance cognitive development, pre-academic skills, health, nutrition, social skills and other services to support children and families enrolled in the program.
All Head Start students will receive two meals each session: breakfast and lunch for morning students and lunch and a heavy snack for afternoon students. Transportation to and from the program will be provided for students through the R-7 Transportation Department.
“It’s really a wrap-around-service type of program,” Boehm said. “Parents get a lot of assistance. There is a Head Start coordinator we will be employing who will build relationships with families and help the families set goals and help that family achieve those goals by connecting them with resources in the community. These are all new (families) that we have not served before.”
Lee’s Summit R-7 School District officials were approached about offering Head Start by representatives of the Mid-America Regional Council during the spring of 2014. Staff members from both organizations worked together to develop plans for the launch.
“Up until the last school year we have had Head Start in Lee’s Summit in one form or another,” said Liz Smith, Head Start director for MARC. “It wasn’t ever operated through the district itself, but there were Head Start classrooms. During (the budget) sequestration (of 2013) Head Start funds were reduced. One of the results of that funding was that those slots were eliminated during sequestration.
“We made a pledge if we got that money back that we would be putting those slots back, particularly in areas where there were no Head Start resources. Lee’s Summit was one of our top priorities when we received the reinstated sequestration funds.”
More than 22 million children have participated in Head Start during its nearly 50-year history. In the metropolitan area, MARC serves as the grantee for Head Start programs in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties.
For more information about the R-7 Head Start program, call the school district at 816- 986-3265.