Paducah Head Start Preschool, which provides a child development program for those age 3 and 4, is about to see a number of changes in its own development.
The most exciting one for the Paducah program is its new proposed building, coming soon to a location close to Paducah Tilghman High School and the Paducah Innovation Hub.
It was announced in April 2020 that the Paducah Independent School District would receive $14.5 million in grant funding to go toward a new Head Start building.
That funding came from the $55 million federal Disaster Relief Act aimed toward repairs caused by Hurricanes Florence and Harvey. The Paducah Head Start center was flooded by rain caused by Hurricane Harvey on Sept. 1, 2017.
The school board also approved $13.16 million in capital outlay funds for the project.
JRA Architects — the firm that oversaw construction of the Paducah Innovation Hub — was awarded the bid for the Head Start building project.
“The biggest updates with the building is that everything is still ‘in process,’ ” said Head Start Director Kristi Lewis. “We are still hitting our timelines.
“Our biggest accomplishment so far is the district hiring a construction manager so we can start the tearing down of homes over on the property on Otis Dinning and just getting the land ready for a building.”
Lewis said Head Start has set a goal of serving 320 children in 16 classrooms, all of which will be full-day classrooms.
“Currently, we have full-day services for six classrooms,” she said, “so we will more than double our ability to serve children and families.”
Plans for the new building include a sensory classroom, an occupational and physical therapy location, a dedicated speech therapy room and a dedicated transitional space to talk with families and provide resources and support.
Head Start helps children 3 and 4 years old prepare for kindergarten and a more structured school day.
“Our teachers are doing a fantastic job, preparing kids for school readiness, and we have increased our family service staff, going from one family worker to three,” Lewis said. “We have one employee whose focus is working with more of our at-risk families and those families that need a little more support.
“Another social worker’s job is really focusing in on supporting adult career readiness, partnering with community partners to help them find a job, go back to school and just helping them with what it takes to get a job.”
The third social worker at Head Start focuses on fatherhood involvement, and is looking for venues to meet with dads, since parents are not allowed in the current building due to COVID-19 guidelines.
Lewis said under the current COVID-19 climate, several families want to keep their children, and she said she understands that.
The Paducah school board will also consider a remote learning option for students of Paducah Head Start at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The proposal would have a review of needs in December.
“We have to be able to support our community,” Lewis said. “Right now, for families of young children, maybe that option is home. Those virtual learning options are so key.
“We don’t just put a child on technology. We support them with an at-home learning kit. We do support them with a tablet that they can have some at-home learning opportunities, but what we really do is support the family being the child’s first teacher.”
Lewis said the biggest talking point for Head Start is the comprehensive services it provides.
“We have the educational piece here in the building, but what our family advocates do and what our health advocates do is really help the family understand the importance of family wellness,” she said.
Paducah Head Start has a vision specialist who comes to the campus to do eye screenings and is in the process of working with a local dentist to do dental screenings on the students.
Lewis said Paducah Head Start has been able to remain flexible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What COVID has taught us is that we can just shift the activity and plan for it to be healthy and safe,” she said. “Typically, our parent committee meetings would have been in the building and we would have had everybody in our big library. Now, we will just have it outside. We will group our families together, and the children can play on the playground while we talk to the parents.
“We’re looking for fun ways to go ahead and engage the families because we want them here, and that’s the most important part, is family engagement and family involvement.”
For more information about Paducah Head Start, call 270-444-5780.
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