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Family Services has officially opened all funded classrooms for its Early Head Start program, with a current total of 117 children from birth to two years old participating in the early childhood development program.

Family Services was awarded $2.2 million dollars in federal funding late last year to bring the first Early Head Start (EHS) program to Forsyth County. Early Head Start provides critical education and development services to low-income families with children from birth to 36 months. Last week, Family Services opened four EHS classrooms at Sarah Y. Austin (2050 Big House Gaines Blvd.), the primary site for the Head Start program that the agency has provided in Forsyth County for 50 years.

“We are thrilled to have the sites open and serving the needs of our community’s youngest children,” said Bob Feikema, president and CEO of Family Services. “Without a program like Early Head Start, high quality early education is hard to come by for low-income families. That is certainly evident by the 538 children on our waitlist. The educational investment into EHS boosts the development of the young brain and reduces the educational achievement gap between low income students and more affluent ones.”

Family Services is piloting a new model of Early Head Start relying upon collaboration among community childcare providers to deliver the program. Eleven EHS classrooms were opened in community childcare centers as planned by the end of October. The four classrooms at the Sarah Y. Austin campus required extensive renovations in order to meet state and local regulatory compliances. The remodel has resulted in state-of-the-art classrooms that are appropriate for the care and education of infants and toddlers.

Fifty new jobs were funded through the program, 30 of which are teaching positions. Each teacher is required to have an associate degree in early childhood education or a birth through kindergarten certificate and license.

Nahesha McCatty is one of those teachers. She is also a former student in the Head Start program, an accomplishment that continues to hold great pride for her mother, who still displays McCatty’s Head Start certificate in her home.

“This feels like I’m giving back,” said McCatty. “Head Start helped us out tremendously. My son is currently in the Head Start program and, even as a teacher, it is giving me tools to be a better parent. It also gave my mom the skills to raise me better. I am proud to be here teaching and that my son is getting a wonderful educational foundation.”

Early Head Start offers all of the ancillary services for children and families that are available in Head Start, including health screenings for each child, nutritious meals and nutrition education for families, support for parents in practicing positive parenting methods in the home, and engagement with community organizations to support activities and provide resources in the classrooms.

Erika Tillman’s daughter is a student in McCatty’s EHS class. “As a mother, I am very excited and feel that my child will gain from this program, socially, emotionally, and will strengthen her language and learning skills,” she said. “Her teacher will evaluate my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses and make a plan to help her develop her optimum potential. This program will build the groundwork and offer skills to stay with her through a lifetime.”

The EHS program requires two teachers per eight children, and 10 percent of funded enrollment must be children with a diagnosed special need. A family advocate is provided for each family. EHS parents are given the opportunity to engage in classroom activities and participate on the decision making body for the program by serving on Policy Council and on parent committees. Eligibility for the program is based on family income and age. Families at or below the poverty level, homeless families, foster children, and families receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) are given priority.

Head Start programs are offered through the Child Development division, which has been serving preschool children in low income families since 1965. Early Head Start and Head Start serve 619 preschoolers annually at four Family Services facilities–including Winston-Salem State University–located throughout the county, in seven community childcare centers, and in three elementary schools in collaboration with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Head Start also offers an extended day program for parents who are working and/or in training or school.