Children are precious. They are valuable to the future of the world, which means their education is very important. Ozark Action Head Start helps children to prepare for their education who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
Oregon County's two Ozark Action Head Start programs in Alton and Thayer both had an open house Oct. 23 at the Alton Head Start. Bryan Adcock, the executive director of Ozark Action, was on hand to explain what Ozark Action does to help disadvantaged children prepare for their schooling after Head Start.
"Actually, what our intention is, is to serve the entire family and get the family as well as the children prepared for the school setting," Adcock said. "A lot of the children that we serve, probably 95 percent if not more, are disadvantaged in some way either by income or disability, what have you. So, our goal is to get them ready for school. Many times kids that are more fortunate or have family can help them with school preparedness. The other part of that is a lot of these kids are not exposed to social networks and this allows them to have that social network within the system."
Ozark Action Head Start also helps disadvantaged children and their families with other issues. "We also do health related issues, dental related issues so that the family is not dealing with those barriers as they move into the school system," Adcock said. "Additionally, we work with the family. We have parent committee meetings every month where the families come in, and we talk about their children. We talk about things that they're dealing with and issues that they're working on at home, so oftentimes we can resolve those issues as well, prior to them going to school. If you have a child entering school with dental problems or hearing problems or any of those things, they're automatically behind the eight-ball. If we can eradicate those issues as they're moving into the school system, that's one less stresser on the family, which is already dealing with income issues, dealing with how is my kid going to eat the next day."
Head Start also provides free breakfast and lunch for the students. "We are pretty much guaranteeing that they get at least two solid meals every day that they are here," Adcock said.
Head Start accepts 4 and 5-year-olds, but if there are a large number of 3-year-olds, they will try to accommodate them by adjusting their curriculum. For a child to get in to the program he or she must meet income and disability requirements based on a point system. Adcock said there are times when the same child who entered at 4 comes back when they are 5 so they can transition better into the school system.
The Alton Head Start was added on to this past summer to support the large number of students they were accepting. Adcock said for both Head Starts, they are allowed to serve 505 children in the six-county area of Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Wright and Texas. The Alton Head Start accommodates 39 children, and the Thayer Head Start has about 20. Classes are 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
The children learn in a school-like setting and are taught math, language, science and any other subject one might learn in an ordinary school setting.
Adcock said another thing that is good about Head Start is that children can make life-long friends. "All these kids get to know each other so that when they get in to the school system, they have a natural buddy or a natural friend," Adcock said. "So, if they see four or five of their peers in a classroom, they're thinking, 'Oh, this is kind of cool. We're all kind of from the same vein and we already have some sort of relationship established.' Also, long-term, it builds community because you have these kids working together at such a young age. I mean, community is about relationships and if they're establishing relationships at such a young age, as they grow older in the community that community then, is more tight-knit."