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Nixon's Investments Promise Opportunity to Children Living in Poverty

children in head start classroom
Photo provided by Missouri Association for Community Action

A new building is in sight for the Sedalia Head Start Program. Governor Jay Nixon announced Thursday that the state will award nearly one million dollars to go to the program. Sedalia Head Start currently enrolls 97 children but the new building will expand service to 115 children meeting income eligibility requirements. Currently 89 of the 97 children enrolled are at 100 percent or below of federal poverty guidelines. Other children qualify by being categorically eligible meaning homeless, or in foster care and having diagnosed disabilities.

“We are honored to be considered good enough to be part of the grant,” Head Start Director Cindy Gabbert said. “Early childhood education is underfunded. All of our children deserve a good start but some families have difficulty affording it. To have the support of the Governor is a thrill for us.”

The current facility is designed for elementary aged children and didn’t meet the needs of the Head Start students ages three through five. The new building will include support space for family education, meetings, offices, and family services. The initial funding will build the head start classrooms and part of the second floor for the family support services.

The Head Start program provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for afternoon classes to the children as well as educational activities and family services. Head start is an Eat Smart facility, meaning the program serves more fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains than the Child and Adult Food Care Program. Because most  of the children live below the poverty line or are homeless, one of the programs goals is to give its students a third of their nutritional value for the day.

“Many of our children come from families where it’s not easy to make the dollar stretch for their children to meet all their nutritional needs.” Gabbert said. “If there is not enough at home they still will have two good meals.”

Head start also provides health screenings and developmental screenings. Students can be referred to special education or speech therapy when they reach their public elementary school.

Nixon’s Press Secretary Scott Holste says the Head Start program has proven effective and is well-deserving of the grant.

“Governor Nixon has always said the best economic development tool there is, is a good education. You really can help out children to become better students throughout their entire lives by ensuring that early childhood education,” Holste said.

Head Start’s simple goal is to get the children ready for kindergarten no matter what their background. For example, in Sedalia there are many minority Spanish speaking families. The agency offers help to the families English speaking skills to help make the transition smoother.

“Ready for kindergarten means more than just their ABCs. It means being healthy and being able to see and hear,” Gabbert said. “In our case it means a lot of self-help sills and social skills that make them comfortable in the classroom so when they go to the big school they feel like they’re ready.”