By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
An agreement between the local Head Start program and Havre Public Schools is bringing together middle school students and preschool-age children to read, play and eat together.
The volunteer program allows middle school students to use time during study halls and lunch breaks to visit children in the local Head Start program every Thursday. So far 11 seventh- and eighth-graders are participating in the program, which began in January.
The students participate in a variety of activities, said Sara Carroll, a home-based educator with Early Head Start who has helped coordinate the program. Head Start children and HMS students read together, play outside, act in plays and eat a meal together.
"I think the middle school kids are good role models for the little kids," said Andi Everingham, a family services specialist for Head Start and Early Head Start.
The program is good for the middle school students as well, Carroll said.
"I tell them that being a role model means not just being it in Head Start, but in general in the community," she said. "It just makes kids aware that there's more than them."
The experience will hopefully also foster a long-lasting interest in volunteering, added Terry Hanson, the Early Head Start program director.
Four or five small shifts of HMS students come to Head Start between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Carroll said. Many are former Head Start students.
Connie Peterson, a counselor at Havre Middle School who helped coordinate students' schedules with the program, said the students are "having a ball."
"They get to eat with them - they think that's fun. They draw with them, read to them. They just like being with them. It makes them feel good," Peterson said. She said three more students took applications last week.
The sit-down, family-style meal is a normal part of Head Start's mandate, said Lisa Habeger, a family community advocate for Early Head Start and one of the coordinators of the program.
"Head Start promotes traditional family settings like all sitting around the table to eat," Habeger said last week. "A lot of youth don't get to experience that."
The program is the result of a one-time 2002 federal grant, Hanson said. Early Head Start contacted the school district in spring of 2003, she said.
Costs for the first part of the program, the middle school visits, are minimal because students only have to be transported to and from the Head Start building from HMS one day a week, Hanson said.
The second part of the program pays students to do literacy activities with children in Head Start and Early Head Start while their parents attend the monthly Policy Council meetings.
"They can read to the kids, do skits based on a book, anything that has to do with letters or stories," Everingham said.
The Policy Council is the governing body of the local Head Start and Early Head Start programs. It is made up of about 20 community members and parents.
Usually between six and 10 children come with their parents to Policy Council meetings every month, Everingham said.
The $1,875 grant helps pay the students, who make minimum wage, Hanson said. Students from the Havre High School Key Club have been participating.
Hanson said she contacted several local youth organizations to see if they would be interested in October.
Although the money will run out after this year, Everingham said Early Head Start will probably try to find other sources of money to keep the program running.
"We actually will probably continue it as long as we can," she said.
Anyone interested in the program should contact Andi Everingham at 265-6743, ext. 119.
Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded child development programs that aim to better prepare children of low-income families for school, according to the Head Start Bureau's Web site. They are funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start serves children ages 3 to 5, and Early Head Start serves children younger than 3.