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First day of school is awful fun

Jihaan S. attends her first day of school at Head Start this morning. This year, Head Start will serve about 330 children in Olmsted County

While back-to-school was a couple weeks ago for most students, Head Start opened its doors this morning for another year of classes.

There was excitement, smiles and a few tears as the three- and four-year-olds walked into the building, many for the first time.

"We get the luxury of having a little more time to get ready for them, you know instead of in August and September," said Jon Losness, Head Start's executive director. "Just like an any school, the first day of school is awful fun."

This year, Head Start will serve about 330 children in Olmsted County. The non-profit organization provides child care programs for children up to five years old and resources for parents. It is run locally by Families First of Minnesota.

The need for programming continues to grow, said Sandy Simar, education director. Though the reasons aren't clear, Head Start is making a number of changes to adapt to the increase in need.


"We could see a trend with our program, our children were coming in with more and more needs in terms of social-emotional development, so we were looking for something to implement program-wide to really support the success of children in that area," Simar said

"We know from research that children in poverty do need added support to keep up with their peers at higher socioeconomic levels," she said. "Poverty is a huge stress on families."

Simar said Head Start serves a lot of immigrant families and those with varying mastery of the English language.

"They all want the best for their children, and they're all trying really hard and working really hard to be successful here, but it just puts another level of stress on families when there's a language barrier," she said.

Next year, Head Start is hoping to offer full-day programing for preschoolers. Now, it offers four hours of daily programming. The change would be gradual, with about 30 percent of students attending full-day to start, and then, as funding becomes available, they'll add more, Simar said.

"That doesn't mean we'll serve less students," she said, "we'll just expand to other locations."

They moved into their location at The Place a few years ago, and it's already at capacity. Other Head Start programming is offered in Rochester at Churchill and Harriet Bishop elementary schools and Hawthorne School.

The organiation is also in the second year of what is called the "conscious discipline curriculum," which is about encouraging social-emotional development, she said. They do activities with children like handshakes, bringing in photos of families and wish-you-well rituals when students are out of the classroom, to encourage that development.


Head Start also got funding for a mental health pilot this year, which focuses on changing teacher and adult behavior in the classroom, and helps adults recognize their perceptions of children and their behavior, rather than connecting children directly to mental health resources.

The organization is also under new performance standards, which Simar said is a time of change for the organization, "but it's a good thing."

"The revised performance standards are more open-ended," Simar said. "But it gives more flexibility at the community level to adapt your programming to the community."

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