By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Bristol’s Head Start program has kicked off the new school year offering families an extended day and a longer school year.
The program officially reopened last Tuesday at both its Lake Avenue and South Street locations here in Bristol. Since July 1, Community Renewal Team began operating Bristol’s Head Start program. These four classrooms were initially operated by Bristol Community Organization (BCO) as a delegate under CRT. But the new contract from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services solely awards the contract to CRT, one of the largest preschool systems in Connecticut that provides Head Start, child care and infant/toddler programs to over 1,100 children in eight communities. This size allows CRT to hire specialists in parent engagement, preschool mental health, disabilities and more, offering families a variety of services.
Three classrooms now will run for 52 weeks and one classroom for 36 weeks, with two rooms open for seven hours a day and another two rooms open 10 hours a day for working families.
Recently, Mayor Ken Cockayne visited the classrooms, where he interacted with one group of children during storytime. Before the new school year began, the classrooms underwent a number of improvements. The buildings at both Head Start sites were repainted, with new bulletin boards and blinds installed as well as other classroom equipment. The playgrounds underwent a cleanup.
The Head Start program uses the Creative Curriculum, which implements concepts that children must learn through the element of play.
“Through Head Start, we help kids acquire those necessary skills while they’re with us, so by the time they transition to kindergarten, they are ready for school,” said Early Care and Education Director Emilie Montgomery. “We work closely with the schools to make sure that we know what they expect our kids to know.”
With the extended hours and school year, Montgomery said the children will have a better chance of retaining the information they learn in the classroom. She noted how a longer school day can help lessen the loss of classroom knowledge during the summer.
“We know that the summer loss is huge for children,” said Montgomery, adding how the longer school year is a great benefit for working parents. “We decided that we would reflect the same hours kids have in the public schools, which is seven hours for 52 weeks—that way our kids get prepped the entire year.”
Besides providing longer hours and year-round child care, operation of CRT has brought increased professional development opportunities and stability and longevity of staff, as seven employees continued from the prior contract. All part-time or part-year positions were converted to full-time with benefits and teaching staff receive support with mentors and education coordinators.
“The teaching staff here are remarkable,” said Montgomery, adding another benefit has been improved food for the children. “What we’ve been able to provide here is some additional support, some additional infusion of funds that really have moved it from a quality program to a high-quality program.”
Nancy Pappas, director of external affairs at CRT, said this year marks the 50th anniversary of Head Start, and CRT has been involved from the start.
“We were one of the pilot agencies that provided this program, which was the original two-generation approach to reducing poverty,” said Pappas. “It’s exciting to be starting a new relationship with the Bristol community, investing in Bristol Head Start program there.”