Head Start Zero-Five in Fort Dodge helps 194 preschool-age children every year, with 10 classrooms and five additional classrooms in partnership with area school districts.
"In those classrooms, three of them have children who have special needs, state-funded preschool children and Head Start children," Bonnie Calvert, director, said. "We also have a shared classroom in Stratford and a shared classroom in Eagle Grove."
For the 2011-2012 year, Your Own United Resources Inc., the nonprofit corporation that implements Head Start, received $1,297,226 in federal grants for its programs, which employ 50 people and have served Hamilton, Humboldt, Webster and Wright counties since 1965.
Its Early Head Start program, started in 1999, enrolls 74 every year, including pregnant women, infants and toddlers. It received $445,468 for its home-based services, which are provided until the enrolled child is 3 years old.
"That's a 90-minute visit every week," Calvert said. "They focus on child development and improving parent skills, and helping their children succeed and develop normally."
Both programs have school readiness goals, Calvert said, even for infants and toddlers.
"The interactions of the parents stimulate their growth and development and move them along towards school readiness, and success in school and life," she said. "There's a big push for parent engagement."
Head Start Zero-Five also receives state support through reimbursement funds and programs such as the State Voluntary Preschool Program, as well as from Webster and Hamilton county endowment funds and Linking Families Early Childhood Iowa. Its total budget is $1,775,122, with $1.29 million going toward personnel wages.
"Our employees naturally don't get paid as much as school district employees or public health employees," Calvert said. "We have a lot of dedicated staff who aren't getting rich, but I think are providing really valuable services."
Head Start provides a curriculum for its students designed to prepare them for grade school.
"We use creative curriculum in Head Start and we use teaching strategy goals, which is pretty much what most of the preschools in our area use," Calvert said. "As children transfer into their programs, either in a (transitional kindergarten) or kindergarten setting, they've all had the same background through the curriculum."
Health services are also provided with vision, hearing and dental screenings and support from local physicians.
"All of are children are up-to-date in immunizations and have had physicals. About 90 percent of the Head Start children had a dental," Calvert said. "There were about 58 children that had some need for follow-up treatment, and about 95 percent of those got that treatment completed before the end of the program year."
Breakfast is also provided for students in Head Start, through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program.
"All of the children in the center-based programs receive a mini-breakfast and a lunch, and those meet two-thirds of their daily requirement for food," Calvert said. "We contract with a dietitian from Webster County Public Health to review all of our menus and make sure we're getting the required needs for the program."
Head Start is also there for the parents, encouraging engagement and even providing some financial training. The parents, in turn, participate in policy councils.
"I think, overall, we're much more than just working with children, because we really see the importance of the family," Calvert said.