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Golden Crescent Head Start survives sequester, shutdown (Video)

By Carolina Astrain
Oct. 12, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.
Updated Oct. 13, 2013 at 5:13 a.m.

Bruce Johnson Jr., 4, is given a kiss before class by his mother Christina Williams, 38, at the creekstone Head Start in Victoria. "I don't know what we'd do without head start. A lot of us would be struggling, we wouldn't be able to work or afford childcare, there would be no opportunities for the families." Williams said.

Christina Williams looked on as her son, Bruce Johnson Jr., served himself breakfast with other Golden Crescent Head Start classmates at the Creekstone Head Start Center.

Williams is one of hundreds of parents in the program's six-county service area that depend on Head Start, a federally funded early-education program for low-income students.

The classroom breakfast is part of the program's standards, which teaches students how to be more independent by serving themselves meals, said Rachel Parsons, GCHS executive director.

This fall, because of sequestration budget cuts, GCHS reduced its program's cap by 34 students, laid off four family service workers, decreased its number of classrooms by three and reduced the numbers of work days for its employees from 195 days to 190 days.

This year, Bruce, 4, was one of 652 students GCHS was able to admit into its program.

"We closed down the center in Yorktown," Parsons said. "Now, those students choose between going to Cuero or Nixon-Smiley."

These cuts are more than GCHS previously anticipated in March.

According to a statement released by the National Head Start Association, more than 57,000 at-risk children across the U.S. lost their Head Start slots as a result of the cuts.

One salvation is that unlike several Head Start programs across the country, GCHS has not been affected by the government shutdown. The Golden Crescent's funding cycle is under its grantee Teaching and Mentoring Communities and begins Feb. 1.

Other Head Start programs with funding cycles that began Oct. 1 were impacted immediately - in eastern Alabama, the Cheaha Regional Head Start program, which serves 770 children and families and 240 employees, closed its centers after the shutdown.

Because of the decreased number of family service workers at GCHS, each one of their case loads has increased from an average of 55 families to 82, Parsons said.

Without Head Start, an early childhood education for Bruce would have been impossible, Williams said.

Williams has fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal disorder that can arrest her into a temporary state of stiffness and pain.

"It can be spontaneous," the 38-year-old mom said. "It has a mind of its own."

Since Williams' diagnosis, the single mother has been living on her disability check, child support and help from family and friends.

Her average monthly earnings from disability and child support amount to roughly $2,650, which she uses to maintain a two-bedroom apartment home for her 5- and 12-year-old sons.

The average early childhood education program in Victoria ranges between $1,000 to $3,000 per child per school year, according to tuition rates at Presbyterian Day School and Our Lady of Victory.

This is Bruce's second year in the program, and Williams said she has seen success.

"He'll be a stronger kindergartner because of Head Start," Williams said. "With this, he won't be starting at zero."

Williams, who also serves as vice president of the program's parent policy committee, said the program has been working on cost-cutting strategies to combat its losses from the sequester.

"We've reached out to the Boy Scouts of America to see if they can help repaint some of our classrooms," Williams said. "It takes a village."



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