“Right now she’s on the principal’s list – she’s doing awesome things in school – and I have to contribute it to Head Start,” said Felica McCubbin of her granddaughter Aubrianna McKinnis.
Prior to starting school the six-year-old was enrolled into the Head Start Program, a scheme funded by the federal government to give children from impoverished homes a leg up, which according to Ms McCubbin gave her grandchild an advantage over the other children in class.
Ms McCubbin believes so firmly in the program that she attended the open house held at Cecile Dickey Center in East 35th Street to enroll another grandchild, a 2-year-old boy.
She is not alone, there were a handful of other parents, who attended the program’s open house, in hopes of giving their child a head start. More than 700 families are set to be served by the program beginning early September when classes start for pre-school youngsters.
Nancy Griner, director of the program in Bergen County, Paterson, and Prospect Park for the Bergen County Community Action Partnership, an out of county organization that won the rights to run the program in the city through a re-bidding process that supplanted the previous runner, Concerned Parents for Head Start, says “the quality of the program will improve and the services provided will be expanded”.
“We’re fully staffed — 87% of the original Concerned Parents staff have been invited to return,” said Ms Griner. Since the organization was selected to run the program in the city few weeks ago, there have been some fears, that here is an out of city and out of county organization coming in to the Silk City to run a program that has been successfully run by locals. By hiring a large number of the previous organization’s staff Ms Griner has reduced some of the fears.
Bill Pascrell, congressman representing the New Jersey’s 9th congressional district which includes the city, re-assured concerned residents of the quality of service the out of country organization will provide, saying, “Before I signed off on it I knew that the people [Greater Bergen Community Action] are very serious about the job, very dedicated, so I have no problem whatsoever on this transitional period — you get the same quality of service for the over 700 students.”
Benjie Wimberly, assemblyman in the state assembly, reinforced the same message, sharing his story with the small group. Mr Wimberly said he was a child of the program, and his cousin Cecile Dickey, whose name is plastered outside the building, played a pivotal role in preparing pre-school children for school. Following the brief speech, Bob Halsch, the executive director of the organization, said the name of the building will remain intact.
Shavonda Sumter, assemblywoman in the state assembly, delivered a short speech, in which she walked up to the podium, said “I lived two blocks from here, so this is home… Congressman Pascrell also lives in the ward that house this Head Start; Assemblyman Wimberly also lives in the ward…,” then she turned her head away from the podium and towards Mr Halsch saying, “you may see us frequently, even if it’s just driving pass.”
She explicitly told Mr Halsch that he will be held accountable for the way his organization runs the early education program. Ms McCubbin, after expressing her gratitude towards the program for helping her granddaughter achieve excellence in school, said, “I love head start…It’s where I got my start too.”