When it comes to preparing students for the start of kindergarten, there is little doubt that preschool programs can prepare children both academically and socially. For families unable to afford private preschools, the Head Start program offers opportunities for those children to prepare for successful entry into public kindergartens.

According to Nathan Kline, social service manager at Northwest Ohio Community Action Commission (NOCAC) which oversees the Head Start program in five northwest Ohio counties, it gives these students a boost they would otherwise be missing.

“The value of our program for kids in our communities is it is for the under-funded,” said Kline. “So the kids who can’t afford to go to a (private) preschool can get that early jump and be on the same level as the kids who are more blessed, I guess you could say, with their parents having better jobs or less struggles that they go through.

“It’s great for them, because they are getting the education they need — (teaching them) to write their name, potty train, learn ABCs and 1,2,3s — it helps parents and it’s free. It allows parents to be able to work at the same time as it gives their kids the education they deserve,” added Kline.

According to the NOCAC website, Head Start is a federally funded school readiness program for preschool children ages 3-5 years, from families that meet income guidelines based on 100% of the federal poverty guidelines, are foster children, homeless or receiving public assistance. Ten percent of the enrollment is available for children with professionally diagnosed disabilities. NOCAC Head Start services children in Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Paulding and Williams counties.

NOCAC also administers an Early Head Start program for pregnant mothers to three years of age.

“This program is all home-based at the moment,” said Kline. “We have a lady who goes into the home and works with the mom and teaches them how to interact with the baby.”

There is also an Early Childhood Education (ECE) program which is for 4-year-olds and those 5-year-olds whose birthdays did not permit them to start kindergarten in their school district.

“The Early Childhood Education program helps those children prepare for kindergarten,” said Kline. “Most of our programs nowadays are full days (four days a week), so they are a full six hours. Some of our Head Start programs are only half days, so those students may go three hours either in the morning or afternoon. Our ECE program is full day, every day, except Wednesday.”

Kline, who has only been in his current job at NOCAC for a little over a month, is impressed by the dedication of those working in the various Head Start programs.

“I think our programs are great. There is definitely a need for them in the community,” said Kline. “These guys I work with here go above and beyond what it takes to get a kid into the program. Then, if families have troubles with teachers, or bus routes or just in general with anything ... they send them to the right sources, they meet the problem head on and take care of it. Our family advocates do a fantastic job.”

For more information or to apply to NOCAC’s educational programs, visit nocac.org or call 419-784-5136.

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