Kimberly Braunstein’s preschool classroom at the Dasher Green Head Start Center turned into a makeshift gymnasium for half an hour the morning of June 13. Following coaches’ instructions, little ones contorted their bodies every which way during warm-up floor exercises; practiced shooting small, orange balls into pint-sized basketball nets; and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d DYNA-BANDS® into the shapes of alligator mouths, horsetails, and jellyfish.
Children squealed with delight while exercising and developing sports skills during JumpBunch, one of many activities that were part of this year’s Howard County’s Head Start Summer Enrichment Program (SEP). SEP runs concurrently with the Head Start program.
Created by the federal government in 1966, Head Start is a free program that promotes school readiness for 3- to 5-year-old children. The Head Start program not only prepares its students for kindergarten, it also helps equip families to support their children’s learning.
Families with incomes below the poverty guidelines or receiving public assistance are eligible for Head Start as are children from homeless families and foster children. A significant portion of the program funding is provided through federal and state grants. Additional funding to help cover expenses is provided through the local county government, community and faith organizations, and individuals.
At Head Start, children learn colors, numbers, alphabet letters and their sounds, as well as social skills. In addition, the Head Start program provides speech and language therapy, mental health consulting, hearing and vision screening, nutritional counseling, and support to families to achieve their own goals such as housing stability.
During the 2014-15 school year, a total of 152 students were enrolled in the seven-week summer program. The 2015-16 school year marked a first – all 284 Howard County Head Start students were enrolled in the SEP for seven weeks, with 50% of students signing up for an additional four weeks of intensive academic programming.
Because all four of Howard County’s Head Start locations converted to full-day (6 ½ hours) programs in August 2015, SEP too has become a full-day program. Transportation is provided for 80% of the students attending the Head Start program in one of three new school buses that were added to the agency’s bus fleet this year.
In addition to traditional academic pursuits, Howard County’s SEP offered a variety of enrichment activities. “These cultural activities supported the program’s ability to maintain academic momentum as well as attendance,” said Howard County Head Start Director of Education, Alice Harris.
“SEP enriches children’s education by making available opportunities they would not have otherwise. It gives kids who haven’t had a chance to take a dance class exposure to dance and children who have never heard a violin a chance to hear one,” said Ron Carlson, a past president of the Sunrise Rotary Club of Ellicott City, the organization that conceived the idea for SEP and continues to support it wholeheartedly. “The Summer Enrichment Program is making a positive impact on the lives of children.”
In addition to sessions of JumpBunch, a program run by an organization that brings sports to young people, many other activities enlivened this year’s SEP.
Head Start students visited the National Aquarium, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, and the B&O Railroad Museum, all in Baltimore, and Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City.
Instructors from GoGo Guru Yoga Studio in Ellicott City and Cindee Vellee Ballet in Columbia provided the children dance lessons at each of the four Head Start centers.
Children attended performances by the Tracey Eldridge Dance Troupe, the Columbia Orchestra, and ERIC ENERGY Science Spectacular! at the Blackbox Theatre in the Howard County Center for the Arts.
Columbia Art Center instructors taught children about colors and expressing emotion, and helped the children create their own monster mask.
Volunteer readers from the community visited classrooms to read books that foster good character (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship).
“These special activities make school more exciting,” commented Kimberly Braunstein, a Howard County Head Start teacher. “The kids look forward to them.”
The SEP also continued Head Start’s successful year-round EatPlayGrow initiative, which incorporates activities into hands-on educational lessons that foster making positive choices about nutrition, physical activity, and getting the proper amount of sleep. This program, which launched during last year’s SEP, includes a monthly night where Head Start family members come together to eat a healthy meal, learn, play, and have fun. EatPlayGrow was made possible through a generous grant provided from the Horizon Foundation.
The enrichment activities also offer numerous benefits outside the school day. “Parents are encouraged to join the students and staff on field trips, as parent participation is a critical part of our efforts to extend school readiness activities into the homes of our students,” said Ms. Harris.
Enriching Children’s Lives
The original idea for SEP did not start in a Head Start classroom.
In 2001, the Sunrise Rotary Club of Ellicott City informed Dottie Moore, then president of the Community Action Council of Howard County (CAC) that oversaw and continues to oversee the county’s Head Start program, that the group would like to offer a summer program to low-income children, according to Ron Carlson. The club raised money to enroll about 10 children in some summer programs.
The club did not feel that initial project worked well primarily because there were transportation issues and the programs were very short. Responding to these challenges, the club came up with the idea of introducing children in the Head Start program to the arts and arranging field trips for them. The group worked with Jena Smith, then Howard County’s Head Start director, to implement this novel approach to summer programming.
In 2003, the SEP was born and has evolved into the club’s signature activity. It dovetails perfectly with the club’s mission “to improve the quality of life in the community by partnering with local business, social services organizations and local government to improve the quality of children in need.”
The club not only bankrolled many of SEP programs, but, in collaboration with CAC, lined up some of the community activities. In addition, club member volunteered as readers in the classroom, chaperons on field trips, and tutors. “We are someone from outside the classroom expressing love and interest in who they are,” said Mr. Carlson.
Three years ago the club formed a Sustainability Committee to see what could be done to sustain and expand the SEP in the future. The club hopes to continue its role in serving all children enrolled in Head Start as well as support CAC’s longer range plan to reach all of the 900 eligible families in the county.
Drawing on the club’s impressive business relationships, this committee facilitated the Maryland Department of Education raising the number of children attending SEP from 152 last year to 284 this year, according to Mr. Carlson.
During the last few years, Rotary clubs known as the “Howard 7” joined forces to establish several community partnerships in Howard County. In 2015, Mr. Carlson presented a proposal to the presidents of other clubs in the Howard 7 to participate in SEP. The answer was a resounding, unanimous “yes.” Now, instead of 30 members in the Sunrise Rotary Club of Ellicott City championing SEP, 200 Rotary members are supporting the program.
In addition to the Sunrise Rotary Club of Ellicott City, Howard 7 Rotary clubs are Howard West, Columbia Patuxent, Columbia, Columbia Town Center, Ellicott City Noon, and Elkridge.
For the last two years, the Howard 7, along with the support of several banks including PNC, Howard, and Sandy Spring and Wells Fargo, raised $48,000 each year for SEP.
This year, the Sunrise Rotary Club of Ellicott City was given the county’s Non-Profit Volunteer Organization of the Year award, in large part for its financial and volunteer support of the SEP.
Ms. Harris underscores the importance of community investment as an essential component to ensure that all young students have a healthy head start in life. “It is because of the generosity, the compassion and the commitment of the Howard County Rotary Clubs and the support provided by its members that we are able to celebrate another successful year of seeing our young students not just enter school ready to learn, but ready to succeed and thrive.”
To see a video about SEP, visit here.