By Patrick Jason Rodriguez
“He’s a fast learner and pays attention at home,” said his mother, Sonya Silva, 23, “but they weren’t really teaching him anything there.”
T.J. Silva Sr., 24, added, “He got bored real easily.”
It wasn’t until the Silvas moved to Socorro a little more than a year ago that the childcare situation for T.J., now 4, improved. That was when his parents enrolled him at the Early Childhood Development Center in Socorro, the city’s lone Head Start-affiliated program.
And though the program is geared toward children ages 3 to 5, this is anything but a daycare facility.
Head Start program teachers must prepare a curriculum for their students and include a lesson plan consisting of reading stories, writing in journals, basic arithmetic, science projects, and hygiene awareness. Lead teachers must also have earned a Child Development Associate credential, and beginning in 2013 all teachers must have at least an associate’s degree.
A recent visit to the school on a Friday morning witnessed activities that were very much similar to your average elementary school: yellow school buses dropped children off in front of the school; parents, students, teachers and administrators crowded the corridors before class; there were announcements delivered by someone working in the front office over the public address system.
And then a few minutes later the school day officially began.
Lorie Padilla, who has worked at the Early Childhood Development Center for the past eight years, teaches 3 year olds and begins each school day by providing breakfast for her students, followed by a simple health evaluation of each student to check for signs of illness. She said that if any of the students show signs of illness, they are sent to the health office to have their temperature read. If the temperature reading is too high, the students are then sent home, said Padilla.
Another teacher of 3 year olds, Veronica Tsinajinnie, who has been teaching at the Early Childhood Development Center for the past three years, encouraged her students to listen to stories and then afterward ask questions.
The Federally-funded Head Start program came to fruition as included in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, an initiative of then-President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and then later was assigned to fall under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services. The program has gone through numerous changes since its inception, mostly recently in 2007 when then-President George W. Bush signed into law an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act intended to help homeless children in the United States enroll into their locally-administered Head Start program.
Funding for the Head Start program comes from grant money. There are about 1,600 different Head Start programs across the United States, operating more than 48,000 classrooms. As of 2005, more than 22 million pre-school aged children have participated in Head Start since 1965.
The only other Head Start program in either Socorro or Catron Counties is at the Alamo Navajo Early Childhood Center in Magdalena, which is falls under the American Indian-Alaska native Head Start project.
Not every child may enroll into their local Head Start program. Aside from space restrictions, eligibility is largely geared toward children of low-income families, though each locally-operated Head Start program might include other admission criteria such as disability.
Head Start Programs are administered locally by nonprofit organizations, such as the Midwest New Mexico Community Action Program, which oversees the Early Head Start facilities in Valencia, Socorro, Catron, Cibola, and McKinley Counties.
There are seven classrooms at the Early Childhood Development Center, which uses a few buildings that once were part of the now-defunct Edward E. Torres Elementary School, and each classroom is assigned two teachers, including a teacher’s assistant. Many of the classrooms also receive help from family members who volunteer.
“The curriculum is excellent,” said Caroline Benjamins, a volunteer, whose grandchildren attend the Early Childhood Development Center. “There aren’t many quality childcare facilities around here (in Socorro), but there really needs to be.”
Pictured: T.J. Silva Jr., 4, shows his parents, T.J. Silva Sr. and Sonya Silva, his favorite toy inside his classroom at the Early Childhood Development Center in Socorro.
Photo by Patrick Jason Rodriguez