Federal funds are paying for an expansion of pre-school programs in Springfield, Massachusetts, where children from poor families have historically struggled academically and dropped out before graduating from high school.
A $2 million federal grant will open 11 additional Head Start classrooms for infants and toddlers from low- income families in Springfield. Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, who announced the funding, praised Head Start as a last vestige from the Great Society programs of the 1960s.
" The legacy is millions of people across the country who got a jump start in terms of education," said Neal.
As evidence of Head Start’s now multi-generational impact, the program expansion announcement was witnessed by Latricia Winters of Springfield. Her four children graduated from Head Start and now a grandson will be enrolled in the program.
" It really did help our family," said Winters. " They were bright children, but this helped them shine brighter."
The expansion will provide slots for 88 infants and toddlers in Early Head Start, according to Janis Santos, executive director for Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start.
" There is such a great need for this age group," she said.
The new classes will be spread among three Head Start locations.
Santos said the grant her organization received was competitive and only one of 300 given out nationally.
"We are so excited about getting this and giving this opportunity to the many families that need it in the city of Springfield," she said.
Springfield Superintendent of Public Schools Dan Warwick said the city’s schools have a great partnership with preschool providers such as Head Start. He said without formal early education, children from low- income families come to kindergarten behind their peers and never catch up.
" We win or lose the game at the preschool level," said Warwick.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said early education is critical to combating poverty and crime.
"It does a make difference to put the money on the front end," said Sarno.
One of the locations for the new Early Head Start classrooms is the Early Childhood Center, which is a new cooperative preschool run by the Springfield Public Schools and private preschool providers Head Start, Square One, and the YMCA of Greater Springfield.
The city received a $14 million, 5-year grant from the state earlier this year to provide free pre-school classes for almost 300 4-year- olds at the early education center.