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Some in favor Bush's early childhod ideas

April 15, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The executive director of Head Start of Washington County thinks the federal push to improve early childhood education has come just in time.

Paul Pittman said President Bush's new initiative will fall in place with steps the local Head Start program is already taking to improve the quality of the program.

"I really think that this will just add and strengthen Head Start," Pittman said of the federal initiative introduced by President Bush in early April. "I'm pleased to see the attention given to the early childhood field."

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Head Start is a federally funded program that helps low-income 3- and 4-year-olds prepare for kindergarten by stressing social and cognitive development. Head Start of Washington County receives enough funding to serve 384 children, Pittman said.

The Bush plan, called "Good Start, Grow Smart," will require that:

- All of the country's 50,000 Head Start teachers undergo national training that focuses on high-quality pre-reading and language teaching techniques for young children.

- States develop quality criteria for early childhood education that align with state kindergarten through 12th-grade standards. States will be given more flexibility on how they spend federal child care funds.

- The U.S. Department of Education put into place a public awareness campaign to increase the information available to parents and school officials about effective early childhood practices. Bush would like to spend $45 million to research and identify effective early literacy programs and teaching strategies.

Pittman said that Washington County's Head Start program is already working closely with the Maryland State Department of Education to align Head Start activities and lessons with state standards.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said pre-kindergarten programs offered by local school systems also follow state kindergarten through 12th-grade standards.

He doesn't think the state will have to make many changes to accommodate the federal initiative.

"It's something that our state had been working on for some time," Reinhard said. "It didn't strike us as something that would be dramatically different."

Washington County Board of Education administrators could not be reached for comment.

Pittman said teachers for the local Head Start program already have extensive training, but that new federal training will be useful.

The local program has about 14 teachers, and most have four-year degrees in early childhood education, Pittman said. The minimum requirement is two years of education in the field.

"Any additional training always helps, and we welcome that," Pittman said. "We want to make sure that what we're doing in Head Start and all pre-kindergarten programs is age and developmentally appropriate."

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