CAO Head Start offers resources for families, children

Published 10:10 am Monday, August 10, 2015

As the Ironton-Lawrence Community Action Organization (CAO) celebrates its 50th anniversary, so does the CAO’s Head Start program.

Begun during the Johnson administration, Head Start was originally a program focused on the social and emotional growth of young children, said Sharon Daniels, director of Lawrence County Head Start. The program aimed “to help (children) get a head start,” said Daniels.

As times and the needs of children in the community changed, the program shifted away from focusing on social development to focusing on the educational development of children.

“It has evolved now into school readiness,” said Daniels.

While the program’s primary focus is preparing children for academic success, the opportunity for social development continues to be offered by Head Start in its classroom and daycare settings as children interact with one another.

Housed in seven locations around Lawrence County, Head Start provides day care and educational programs for children up to five years of age and aims to prepare children for entering school.

“They have to be ready for kindergarten,” said Daniels.

Head Start seeks to prepare students for kindergarten by providing them with instructors who have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.

Head Start staff is “caring and nurturing and dedicated,” said Daniels.

Head Start also uses technology as a teaching tool for children.

The program not only focuses on preparing children for school, but also focuses on the overall wellbeing of the children and their families.

“We look at the whole child,” said Daniels.

Daniels sees Head Start’s comprehensiveness as setting it apart from traditional daycare or child development centers.

Head Start requires children to have physical and dental examinations to insure that they are healthy. The program also provides educational resources focused on health and nutrition. While children are at Head Start, “they get nutritious meals,” that are evaluated by dieticians in order to insure they are meeting nutritional standards, said Daniels.

If families need extra guidance in helping their child as they grow and develop, Daniels said Head Start will help develop a family program.

Head Start is open to all families with children regardless of their financial status and offers eligible participants the opportunity to attend Head Start free of charge.

“This program is for all incomes,” said Daniels. “We treat all the kids the same.”

Lawrence County Head Start was recently awarded with a 5 star quality rating by the Ohio Step Up to Quality Program, said Daniels.

“To be 5 star is to have higher quality staff (than other programs),” said Daniels. “We have a culture of high quality. We are always looking to improve.

Daniels also credits Head Start’s having a good teacher-student ratio with receiving the award and hopes the program will continue to have an impact on the lives of young children in the community.

“We need to continue to invest in the future,” said Daniels. “We must continue to set the bar high.”

To learn more about the Head Start programs, visit headstartworks.org.