BCFS Education Services gives more children a Head Start

Fredericksburg Primary partnership with BCFS Education Services gives more children a Head Start

Of the approximately 300 students enrolled at Fredericksburg Primary School – the Battlin’ Billies – 106 are in the Head Start program operated by BCFS Education Services. Head Start is a national program for income eligible families that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through intensive educational, health, nutritional and social services.

Before BCFS Education Services partnered with Fredericksburg Primary School (FPS), the school served about 65 children in two, half-day pre-K classes. BCFS Education Services was awarded the Head Start contract in July 2015 – soon after, enrollment grew to 82 students. In the less than two years since, the partnership between FPS and the Head Start provider has grown exponentially to the point that they now teach 106 children in seven full-day pre-K classrooms, including two classes of 3-year-olds. With continued expansion in the works, the school is excited to add first grade classes next year, and hopes to add a third Head Start classroom for 3-year-olds as well.

Win/Win Partnership

Photo: Head Start Student

“Head Start is a win/win partnership for BCFS Education Services and FISD,” said Dr. Delesa Styles, the principal of Fredericksburg Primary School, “because we are able to provide a full-day program to our students and their families, while also offering employment opportunities to maintain a 10:1 student-teacher ratio. We currently have 15 full-time employees at FPS that work directly with Head Start children.” 

“Most of our Head Start families are already familiar with FPS as an early childhood center for kindergarten,” said Principal Styles, “so the expanded partnership with BCFS Education Services to provide a quality educational program for 3 and 4 year olds is reassuring and encouraging to our families. Also, with the approaching addition of first grade in 2017-18, families feel more at ease knowing their children will be at FPS for several years.”

According to Tosha Grosch, Senior Program Director for BCFS Education Services, the need for Head Start services is certainly there.

“Our strong relationship with the school administration has been pivotal for us to move forward to meet the needs of children and families in our community,” says Grosch. “Superintendent Eric Wright has always been available to discuss any element of the program and our partnership. They are extremely positive and eager to serve the needs of the community.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Celina Estrada Thomas says they have enjoyed the working relationship with BCFS Education Services, through which they are able to establish relationships with at-risk families at a critical time in the academic development of their children.

“Both sides have grown professionally over the course of two years,” said Dr. Thomas. “Our working relationship is critical to having this tremendous resource for our families, especially our economically disadvantaged families.”

“We have monthly meetings to bring in all the departments that have a role in the program, from the registration team to the food and nutrition folks. We present a unified organization, parents don’t necessarily know the difference between the school and BCFS Education Services; all they see is that together we are there to serve their children. It is seamless.”

Meet Head Start Mom, Felicia

Felicia Mitchell has a 3-year-old son named Hunter who has attended BCFS Education Services’ Head Start at FPS for the past year. Mrs. Mitchell, who works at Wal-Mart, says she has been impressed with the skills her son has developed in Head Start.

“It has been awesome,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “Hunter knows his ABCs, his numbers, he can name all the planets. Hunter is able to carry on a conversation at such a young age. He picks up a lot… They’re all about parents coming and interacting with the kids when they’re at the school, so you can see what they’re doing. They make sure the kids get all the nutrition they need. They spend more time with him than I can, because I’m at work.”

Encouraging parental involvement in a child’s education is a key component to Head Start. Mrs. Mitchell says Hunter brings home schoolwork that shows what he’s learning in class, along with some optional family activities they can do together to practice some of those new skills. Mrs. Mitchell now has some enjoyable homework of her own: help little Hunter write the letters in his name.

Wrap-Around Support

Head Start provides individualized teaching, bilingual services, disability services, and healthy meals and snacks, but the added support services for parents help make a long-term impact on each family’s quality of life. Three BCFS Education Services Family Specialists – Sarah Apis, Taylor Chadick and Sarah Cox – provide home visits and case management to the students’ families to ensure each child has what they need to thrive, in and out of the classroom.

These home visits have proven to be an important component of the program, according to Dr. Thomas.

“Meeting the parents on their own home turf and sitting across from them in their home – it’s less intimidating than having them come to the school,” Dr. Thomas reiterated. “Together, we are able to win parents over by reaching out to them, not always in a school setting.”

Hunter’s mom, Mrs. Mitchell, is one of the hundreds of Head Start parents who have received added support outside the classroom. Family Specialist Sarah Cox is helping the mom apply to receive social security benefits to meet the needs of her 9-year-old daughter, who is in a special education class due to difficulties caused by a premature birth. Mrs. Mitchell is hoping to use social security benefits to spend more time with her daughter to help her with schoolwork and further her development.

“It’s amazing how much they help people who need it and all the stuff that they do for you, at no cost at that,” said Mrs. Mitchell.

Principal Styles echoed this sentiment as she recalled how her school and BCFS Education Services worked together to help a single mom with two children who suffered several prolonged stressful life events last year.

“My staff and I witnessed firsthand how BCFS Education Services and FISD intervened to offer support and services to the family. The family is now flourishing and the children continue to make significant strides academically, socially, and emotionally.”

These services provided to families extend beyond the traditional scope of FISD, according to Principal Styles, such as providing well child and dental checkups.

“For many of our families, this is often their sole support and reassurance that their children are receiving early childhood intervention services and the proper care they need for their overall wellbeing.”

Positive Outcomes

Dr. Thomas says over time the school will gather data on how the students are performing and track their progress, but their initial observations are overwhelmingly positive.

“We have already seen how the 4-year-old children who were part of pre-K Head Start last year were able to have smooth transitions into kindergarten,” said Dr. Thomas. “The home visits have been powerful in establishing trusting relationships with parents. They have made a wonderful adjustment and you can tell right away which ones came from the Head Start program. Head Start children are much more adjusted to being in a school setting and embrace the environment.”

According to Dr. Thomas, the school welcomes the opportunity to work with the community’s families in need – and that the program, true to its name, truly does give children a Head Start.