Such a loss would be devastating for Orange County Early Head Start and Head Start, which receive significant funding from Smart Start and More at Four. Both of these local programs are prime examples of how quality teaching blends with exceptional financial accountability to produce excellent results.
High Quality Learning
Since 1999, Orange County Early Head Start and Head Start have served over 1,690 children birth to five throughout Orange County. To create exceptional learning experiences for 230 children who participate each year, the programs have highly trained staff, including those who are bilingual; offer health screenings; and provide parent education opportunities. Teachers use best-practice curriculums such as Creative Curriculum and Parents as Teachers. Formal observation tools developed by the researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute are also utilized. Throughout the year, teachers document children’s progress in social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development, and meet with families two to three times per year to discuss student improvement.
Closely Monitored Budgets
Not only are Smart Start programs models of fiscal responsibility – 92 cents of every Smart Start dollar goes directly to ensuring that children and families have the experiences they need to thrive – these programs are critical in that they offer high quality learning experiences for children in need.
Financial accountability is of great importance to the program, says Angela Wilcox, director of the Orange County Early Head Start and Head Start programs. “We’re entrusted with state and federal funds and we make accountability for those dollars a high priority.”
The use of Head Start funds is highly regulated and the program’s financial reports are reviewed on a regular basis by the Head Start Policy Council, the CHTOP Finance Director and the CHTOP Board of Directors. Fiscal records are reviewed by the awarding federal agency in Washington, D.C. on a quarterly basis. An annual financial (single) audit is conducted by the accounting firm Cherry, Bekaert & Holland to help assure that all CHTOP funds, federal or otherwise, are spent in accordance with grant and contract purposes, federal and state regulations, and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
“Our mission is to support families and children who may not get a second chance, and we take that charge seriously,” says Mike Mathers, executive director of CHTOP. “We’re always looking for ways to improve their learning experience and balance that with being good stewards of the money we receive.”
Research Supports Early Childhood Education
Despite calls to shut off funding for Smart Start and More at Four, numerous studies show that more money spent on early education equals less spent on remedial and delinquency programs later in a child’s life. One recent study by Duke researchers states third graders in counties which received more Smart Start and More at Four funding had higher standardized reading and math scores, and lower special education placement rates.
In addition, the study showed that even children who did not participate in the programs benefited in what Duke called the “spillover effect.” The availability of higher quality childcare boosted children’s school readiness, allowing teachers to spend less time on remediation or dealing with disruptive behavior, and more time on enriching lessons.
“These findings provide the most rigorous evidence yet that investments in these early childhood initiatives generate substantial benefits for all the children in the counties that receive these funds, even children who were never enrolled in the early childhood programs," said Helen Ladd, the Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and a professor of economics at Duke.
Educators and Parents Value Early Childhood Education
Head Start pre-K classes exist in four of the seven elementary schools in the Orange County school district. One of those classes is located at Efland-Cheeks Elementary, in Efland. “Head Start and Early Head Start are very valuable first school experiences for children,” says Melissa Neal, kindergarten teacher with Birth-K and K-5 certification, the school’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, and WRAL Teacher of the Week. “These programs prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in kindergarten. The programs promote independence, creativity and exploration while also fulfilling the social, emotional and cognitive needs of students through hands-on activities and real life experiences. [They] come to kindergarten with an excitement for learning.”
Dr. Lisa Napp, principal at Efland-Cheeks Elementary, states: “My training as an educator began in Head Start settings, and it’s there that I began to understand the critical need to establish strong authentic relationships between school and home. Many years later, as a seasoned educator, I find myself working with excellent teachers and administrators who began their educational experience as four-year-olds enrolled in Head Start programs. For me, there is no greater affirmation of taxpayer money wisely invested in programs that support the well-being of our great state.”
And parents share in their appreciation of the program. “Staff that are supportive at every turn,” says one father of a toddler at the Fairview Child and Family Center in Hillsborough, one of the program's Early Head Start childcare settings. “They want to help and inspire us to be better parents. This is the most important time to be good parents, when children are under five. You have to get it right when they are very young.”
About Orange County Head Start / Early Head Start
Orange County Head Start and Early Head Start, a division of the Chapel Hill Training-Outreach Project, Inc., serve children from birth to five and pregnant women throughout rural Orange County, in quality childcare settings, pre-K classrooms in Orange County Schools, or in the home. Services are based on individual family needs and may include high quality childcare; health, medical and nutrition services; mental health and substance abuse services; pediatric dental services; literacy services, including ESL; services to enhance self-sufficiency;
For additional information about Orange County Head Start and Early Head Start:
Angela Wilcox, Director
Orange County Head Start and Early Head Start
800 Eastowne Drive, Suite 105
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919.490.5577, ext. 247
For additional information about Chapel Hill Training-Outreach Project, Inc.:
Mike Mathers, Executive Director
Chapel Hill Training-Outreach Project
800 Eastowne Drive, Suite 105
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919.490.5577, ext. 223
To arrange an interview with parents or teachers, contact:
Libbie Hough, Public Relations
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Chapel Hill Training Outreach Project (CH-TOP). Our mission is to develop, demonstrate and deliver programs and strategies that will enhance the lives of children, youth and families. Of principal concern to project staff are families in poverty, families caring for the elderly, children with disabilities or chronic illness, and children at risk of abuse and neglect.