TROY, NY – July 27 – Nationally, Head Start has awarded $750 million towards Head Start programs in support of preventative, preparedness, and response activities related to the coronavirus through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Here in Rensselaer County, the Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO) has been the recipient of over $520,000 in funds to support Head Start children and families across Rensselaer County during this public health crisis.
“These funds have allowed us to make the necessary adjustments in preparation for the fall, while still supporting our families over the summer with enriching, new programming,” said Tia Nunziato, Director of Early Childhood Services for CEO. “It’s been a huge adjustment to pivot our programming to be remote, not to mention the immense effort that is going into planning for a CDC compliant re-opening for this fall.”
CEO serves 417 Head Start children and 175 Early Head Start families across Rensselaer County in CEO Community Resource Centers in Troy, Lansingburgh, Rensselaer, Schodack, and Hoosick Falls, local school district buildings, and home-based operations. The Head Start and Early Head Start programming provide eligible children with comprehensive child development services, addressing nutrition, health, education, social services and special services needs to develop skills for success in school. These programs also help to engage parents in their children’s learning and to make progress toward their own educational, literacy and employment goals through parent engagement and family development services. That is a lot to translate to remote and virtual programming, but CEO has an exciting host of activities and community efforts going on this summer in an effort to continue that high standard of care and support despite the pandemic.
With the CARES funding, the Early Childhood Services department has been able to offer weekly virtual art classes in collaboration with the Art Center of the Capital Region, as well as weekly music classes with two area musicians. All are offered to enrolled Head Start children via Zoom. With healthy and nutritious meals being a huge part of the Head Start model, CEO has also facilitated a robust meal distribution program. Each week CEO serves over 1000 meals! Breakfast and lunch are provided to children via socially distant pick-up appointments or, in some cases, drop-off at homes. In addition to the healthy meals distributed to children, CEO supplies families with art and activity supply bags each week. This allows for children to have access to a variety of creative outlets in their homes, and to follow along easily with teachers on Zoom as they do specific projects. On the parent side, CEO is also offering some Zoom parenting classes to promote parent engagement and provide families with information and resources to reduce stress in these unprecedented times. Lastly, with socialization being such an important part of the Head Start program, each center is offering some limited socialization groups outside on the playgrounds with socially distant and CDC compliant activities for small groups throughout the summer.
“We are so grateful to have received this funding and to be able to help support our families in any way we can during what is a difficult time for everyone. We’ve been trying to find as many ways as we can to offer the same supports we previously did, but doing so virtually or remotely. Our Family Advocates and Teachers have been wonderful at following up with families too. It’s been a real team effort,” said Katherine Maciol, CEO and President of CEO.