“I think it’s one of the best Head Start Programs in the area,” Dr. Claudia Sosa-Valderrama, director of Long Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) Head Start and Early Head Start programs, said.
“I feel certain that we are making a difference in the community.”
Enrollment has begun for this fall’s classes at multiple locations across the city.
The Head Start program — established in 1965 — is a national, comprehensive curriculum providing impoverished children with an accessible pre-school education. It differs from daycare as the environment prepares the youngsters for elementary school.
“We are committed to ensuring all of our families are receiving the services they need to get out of poverty,” Sosa-Valderrama said.
She added that it can be difficult for poorer families in the area to find well-rounded and affordable pre-schooling courses for their children due largely to financial hardships.
Time restrictions due to work hours or lack of transportation also can impact a child’s access to early-learning education. The Head Start programs aim to minimize that learning gap, she said.
“Since most families are low income, we help them meet their financial goals,” she added. “We help them to become more self-sufficient.”
Aside from pre-school classes, Head Start facilitates financial planning, health and English as a second language (ESL) classes for families.
Sosa-Valderrama added that helping a child achieve academic success begins with a well-rounded home environment that encourages learning and stimulates a healthy academic environment.
Families interested in signing up their children for the program must meet the minimum requirements for admission, she added. Those requirements include proof of birth and residency — students and families must reside in Long Beach or Signal Hill — and the household income level should fall below the poverty line.
“Once they (prospective students) meet the minimum qualifications, we help them get access to medical for school,” she said. “Before they start school, they have to be up to date with immunizations.”
The program does not pay for the immunizations, but they help families identify doctor’s offices based on their income status. Additionally, program staffers help families locate other services based on individual need, including tutoring services, mental health agencies and finance classes for guardians, she said.
And hiring credible teachers is just as important to the Head Start and Early Head Start program, the director added.
“I work closely with management staff and teachers on site to make sure that we are meeting all academic requirements,” Sosa-Valderrama said. “Since we are federally funded, we have higher expectations for our staff.”
At least 50% of the program’s teachers have bachelor’s degrees and have obtained their teaching credentials through the state of California, she said.
The Long Beach program has nearly 1,125 students enrolled in the Head Start program and 160 infants and toddlers enrolled through the Early Head Start program, with at least 10% of all registered students involved in a special needs program, according to Sosa-Valderrama.
“Children should have access to quality education regardless of their income status,” she said.
There are three options available for class time: three and a half hour sessions, six hour sessions and seven hour sessions Monday through Friday.
Head Start and Early Head Start enrollment is open for children from infants to 5 years old. Classes begin on Monday, August 28.
To schedule an appointment, call (562) 426-8144 or go to lbusd.k12.ca.us/Departments/Head_Start.
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.