FARMINGTON—“We have set some lofty goals,” said Teresa Oster, in an address to the Davis School District Board of Education last year.
Those goals, she said, are not only to help young children, but to help their parents be successful.
Oster oversees the district’s Early Childhood Programs, including the federal Head Start, Early Head Start, Title 1 Preschool programs and the state’s HOPE – High-quality Opportunity for Preschool Education program.
One of the goals her department has set, she said, is to “mitigate the achievement gap for children living in poverty.”
Another is to “provide services to the parent, believing that the parents’ success will help the child to be successful.”
Tamara Lowe, a member of the board, complimented the department on both goals.
“I’ve been aware of this program for years and years, and one of the things that has impressed me from the very beginning is the change in parents,” she said at the workshop. “These parents want their kids to do well and they know that they’ve got to do well and the growth in the parents is unbelievable, so you might be serving the kids, but the service you do for parents is fantastic.”
Research has shown “over and over” that birth to age 5 is a critical period of growth and development for children, said Oster.
“It determines how successful they will be in school and in life,” she said. “The cost per dollar certainly pays for itself.”
The programs are designed to help young children improve their physical and their cognitive skills, working especially on math and literacy. They also are set up to give students the opportunity to explore, and have a smaller ratio of teacher to children than classrooms for older children. The programs also work to help parents and families.
“We still have room to grow but we’re comfortable with continuing on the path we’re on,” said Oster.
According to the report presented to the board, the Early Head Start program provides early care and learning opportunities to 91 infant and toddlers, plus prenatal education to 10 women each year.
Comprehensive pre-school services were provided to 401 children and families throughout the district in 21 Title 1 schools and the Family Enrichment Center.
A total of 273 additional children were provided Title 1 Preschool services to prepare them for school success, said Oster, the number fluctuating as families moved in and out or needs changed.
In addition, the Utah State Office of Education recognized the district’s early childhood program as “high quality” and the state legislature provided funding for an additional 90 children through its new HOPE initiative, which provided a three-year grant specifically for children living in intergenerational poverty who have parents who are either working or in school full time.
While about 800 families are served by the district through early childhood programs, Oster hopes to be able to serve more.
To qualify for federal Early Head Start and Head Start programs, a family needs to be at 100 percent of the poverty level or lower, said Oster, meaning a family of four would make $24,000 or less.
To participate in the state’s HOPE program, families can make between 130 and 200 percent of the poverty level, as long as parents are involved in work or school full time.
Oster hopes any who may qualify will contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
“When you start intervention early,” said Oster, “you help them be successful.”