August 4, 2008

Head Start Enrollment Push Begins


Enrollment in Milwaukee Head Start programs is expected to pick up this month, as parents scramble to get their 3- and 4-year-olds into the federally subsidized early childhood education program.

About a third of the more than 4,000 spots citywide are still open, according to Head Start managers at Milwaukee Public Schools and the Social Development Commission, the two institutions that administer the program locally.

Starting today, MPS will try to fill its remaining 300 slots through a final enrollment push at the Central Services building, 5225 W. Vliet St. The summer registration period is for both Head Start and kindergarten through 12th-grade students and ends Aug. 22.

SDC and the five community agencies with which it partners have ongoing registration.

This is good news to Elizabeth Gonzalez, the mother of twin 3- year-olds. She said trying to get the girls into a Head Start classroom near their home on the city's south side has been a nightmare.

On three separate occasions, beginning in early June, Gonzalez took the girls' birth certificates and medical documents to the MPS headquarters. Gonzalez, who stays at home with her children, also took her roofer husband's check stubs to prove that the family falls within the income guidelines.

Gonzales said she was eventually told there was only one opening on the city's south side and was encouraged to enroll the other girl in a north-side program. But she said high gas prices would have made that impossible.

"I'm not going to send one and keep one at home," Gonzalez said. "I guess there's nothing to do, so I'll just wait until next year."

Gonzalez said she wanted to get the girls in an English-speaking environment this fall, so they would be prepared when they left their Spanish-language home for kindergarten.

Officials with both MPS and SDC said Gonzalez was misinformed along the way. Of the 23 sites that the Milwaukee school district operates, nine are on the city's south side, though just a handful of slots for 3-year-olds are still available. The school system has added programs at Vieau and Longfellow elementary schools in the past two years to respond to more requests from south-side families, said Keona Jones, the district's early childhood coordinator. SDC and the community centers with which it contracts have 14 of its 30 sites on the south side.

Head Start offers a parental involvement element that's missing from most early childhood education programs, Jones said. Parents are encouraged to volunteer in the classroom, and the free program includes a fatherhood initiative and information for parents on health and nutrition.

"Parents are empowered through training," Jones said. "It's really an experience for an entire family."

To enroll in the MPS program, children must be 3 or 4 years old on or before Sept. 1. SDC and its partner organizations also accept 5-year-olds.

Families interested in the MPS program can call (414) 777-7850 for more information or visit the Central Services building between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. through the summer registration period and until 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Aug. 13 and 20.

Families interested in the SDC program can call (414) 906-2777.

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