Head Start fears losing teachers to full-day K (copy)

In this 2015 file photo, a teacher with NeighborImpact’s Head Start program reads a book about planets to her students in Bend.

Jesse Nicolauson, who lives just south of the Deschutes County line, enrolled two of his six children in the federally funded Head Start preschool program in La Pine when they were younger. But he couldn’t put them in the Early Head Start program — which serves pregnant mothers and children through age 3 — because it wasn’t available in La Pine.

But thanks to a massive boost in state funding, Redmond-based nonprofit NeighborImpact will expand the local Head Start and Early Head Start programs in November to serve hundreds more families.

The expansions include bringing Early Head Start to La Pine. And the program, which visits very young children and pregnant mothers in their homes, will help La Pine-area residents who live in rural poverty with the struggles of early parenting, Nicolauson said.

“You’re in the boonies, you just had a baby, things can be scary, and you don’t know where to find support,” said Nicolauson, whose 1-year-old son is first on the waitlist for the expanded program. “Early Head Start is really going to change that.”

This summer, the Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education gave NeighborImpact a $6.3 million funding increase for Head Start and Early Head Start, said Kimberly Brown, who leads those programs for NeighborImpact. That means 339 more child care slots will be available for local families — a capacity increase of more than 76% compared to current levels.

Head Start and Early Head Start provide assistance and education for families with kids from birth to age 5, along with pregnant mothers. Families must live below the poverty line to qualify, or the child must be in foster care, without a permanent home or have other factors.The extra funding will not only add more child care spots in previously existing Head Start programs in Bend, Redmond, La Pine and Prineville, but it will also allow the Early Head Start program to expand more than eightfold, from 22 to 188 spots, Brown said. Right now, Early Head Start is only available in Redmond, but starting Nov. 1, the home services will be available in Bend, La Pine and Prineville as well.

Brown tears up when she thinks about the massive funding increase, she said. “It’s heartwarming to bring these spots to our community and see the impact it’s going to make,” she said. “I’m so excited.”

Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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