After more than 40 years of operation in the city of Union, the Head Start Program has shuttered its center’s doors for good.
Tammie Benton, Head Start director, confirmed the closure, but added that the program has continued its services in the Union area.
Head Start is run through the Jefferson Franklin Community Action Corporation (JFCAC).
Head Start and Early Head Start programs promote school readiness of young children in low-income families. The program is funded by the Health and Human Services Bureau and the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services.
The programs offer educational services, mental health, health and nutrition, social services, and family engagement opportunities.
It provides services to 443 prenatal mothers, children ages birth to 5 years old, and their families in both Franklin and Jefferson counties.
“We have expertise in serving children who are in foster care, children whose families are homeless, children who are being raised by grandparents, children with disabilities, and teens or women who are experiencing pregnancy for the first time or more times,” Benton said.
The center was operated from Zion United Church of Christ, where it has been for decades.
“The church has been providing space for our Head Start program since the 1970s. We have had hundreds of children and families walk through those doors who have received educational and family services because the church provided us the space to do so,” Benton said, adding that they had every intention of continuing the partnership.
The program classrooms operate from August through May.
Over the summer, however, church officials discovered that the HVAC system was in need of repair. The church got estimates for the repairs, but they were “far beyond the resources of either the church or the Head Start Program,” Benton said.
Missouri child care licensing regulations require temperatures in child care facilities reach no higher than 85 degrees and no lower than 65 degrees. “Without an efficient HVAC system, we could not meet the regulations to offer classroom services,” Benton said.
Before its closure, the Union Head Start Program served 34 children last year with partial-day preschool services.
Benton noted that just over a year ago, new federal regulations require that all Head Start programs begin transitioning to a full-day child care service to support families.
Of the children enrolled in the program, nearly 50 percent enrolled transitioned to kindergarten and several families acquired full-day child care services with other providers in the Union area.
Preschool classroom services are available in Gray Summit, St. Clair, Washington and Sullivan.
Enrollment opportunities have been increased at the Washington and Sullivan locations, Benton said, to maintain a number of enrollment opportunities in Franklin County.
To help meet the new federal regulations, the Head Start program is opening a new location in Robertsville, which will serve 16 children ages 3 to 5 years old from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day at Mount Olive United Methodist Church.
Benton noted that a classroom used to operate in the church’s education building, but were moved to a classroom in the St. Clair School District. The building was used as a space for meetings and storage with the intention to open a classroom in the future. The closure in Union allowed the opportunity to open the new classroom, Benton said.
“It was a perfect fit for a challenging situation,” she said.
Benton said that when the program officials realized they couldn’t operate in the Union location, they reached out to community partners, including the Union School District.
“While we are continuing conversations with the Union district, the timing was not conducive to operating a preschool classroom due to space and possible renovations,” Benton said. “Because of our federal regulations, we are required to maintain consistent services to children and families with the least amount of disruption.”
Meg Vogel, early childhood and Parents as Teachers coordinator in the Union School District, said the school district is trying to fill in as many gaps as possible and looking at options to try and keep Head Start program in the Union community.
Some students in the Head Start program were able to be a part of the district’s integrated role model program, which allows children preschool age to be in a classroom with children who have disabilities. Additionally, the district worked with Head Start to identify and help families with special needs.
Children in Union have the option to attend other facilities, Vogel noted.
The school district has one full-day preschool classroom for children developing typically and four half-day classrooms (eight sessions) for early childhood special education.
The school district also offers Parents as Teachers and play groups for children under the age of 5. A kindergarten prep class also is offered for children not in preschool, who can come to the school for two hours each week for kindergarten prep.
The cost of the program averages $9,000 per child each year, but there is no cost to families.
The program is always accepting applications and all families are encouraged to apply.
Any family who is interested in learning more about the program is encouraged to contact Jaclyn Brown at 636-744-0122 or visit our website at www.jfcac.org to complete an electronic inquiry.