When finding care for children, it is either almost unattainably expensive or the care simply is not available. This is especially true for children not yet old enough for grade school. From birth to age five, it is almost impossible to find good, reliable care for children. This is a gap in early education that CPCD: Giving Children a Head Start has decided to fill. Their mission is “to prepare children for success in school by providing excellent comprehensive early childhood services in partnership with diverse families and the community.”
CPCD, more commonly referred to as the Head Start program for El Paso County, “Intentionally finds the most vulnerable families in the community and enrolls them into the program.” They provide both care and education to the children in these families. These families that are the most vulnerable are typically that of lower incomes or financially struggling families. These families often need the most help but sometimes do not know how to ask for it or simply do not know these services are available to them and their children.
When Noreen Landis-Tyson, the CEO of CPCD, first started at the company 30 years ago, they were simply a preschool program. That is, until 1995 when they started exploring more into the three years old and younger category of children and their developmental learning levels. They, as a company, realized that the social emotional development of children is key to development in early education and in life and invested more into that area of early development. In Landis-Tyson’s words, “We have truly become a prenatal to five program.” With a new partnership with Pikes Peak Community College, the expansion of the three and younger category can continue and expand even more. This new partnership has allowed for a great amount of new classroom space for the Early Head Start program.
CPCD serves children from prenatal care, or during pregnancy, until they transition into kindergarten at age five. There are three programs that serve these children. The Early Head Start program serves children from prenatal care to age three. The Head Start program and the Colorado Preschool Program serve children from age three until kindergarten transitions at age five. According to the CPCD website, they are currently serving 962 children in the Head Start program, 636 children in the Colorado Preschool Program and 203 children in the Early Head Start program.
The Early Head Start and Head Start programs are based on income requirements, whereas the Colorado Preschool Program is a state-funded program that is not income based for eligibility. Other than the income eligibility requirements being different, there is not a big difference between the Head Start program and the Colorado Preschool Program. The curriculum for both programs stays generally the same with slight differences depending on the individualized needs of the children.
The educational programs at CPCD all involve a different style of learning than that of something that would be seen in a general education classroom in grade school. Teachers at CPCD utilize a style of learning in these programs called “learning through play”. With learning through play, children are using toys, art projects, books, etc. in an educational way to help them further develop skills that will be needed later on in grade school and in life. By learning through play, children get the chance to express themselves in a way they couldn’t in a worksheet driven classroom. They also have an opportunity to discover new things and explore their interests while learning and engaging with their peers. On the topic of learning through play, Michael Landau, a Head Start lead teacher, says “Learning through play provides kids a chance to show their true self and their unique abilities for them without having all of the expectations of worksheets. When they learn through play, they can incorporate so many different developments in to their school learning.”
The curriculum used in these classrooms is also different than that of grade school classrooms because it is individualized to fit the needs of each student. Each student’s needs are individually assessed periodically and curriculum will differ depending on where the children are at in each area of learning and development. For example, if one child is slightly behind where they should be for their age and development in a certain area, teachers might alter the way they are teaching that child in that area of development.
According to Leslie Vogt, one of the child development supervisors at CPCD, they work to provide for “the whole needs of the children and families, meaning we provide care and education for the children enrolled in the program, as well as a variety of resources for families in need, special needs services, if needed, assistance with kindergarten transitions through school partnerships, and comprehensive services to ensure families’ success.”
Family advocates, as part of the family services department, work to provide resources and help in the community to families in need. For example, family advocates can supply parents with information on local food banks, rent assistance programs, etc. The family service department offers educational classes as well. These classes are for parents and/or guardians of the children in the program and can vary in subject from co-parenting success tips to useful advice on furthering children’s development.
Family advocates can also help families by enrolling them in certain programs around the holiday season, like the adopt-a-family program. In the adopt-a-family program, families in need can be “adopted” for the holiday season. This means people can choose a family and either buy gifts for that family during the holiday season or donate money specifically for gifts for their chosen family in need.
Along with the other services offered, children can also receive services related to special needs and supports that go along with those needs. If there is a sense, either by the child’s parent or guardian, or by the lead teacher, that a student might be developmentally behind in a particular area, a screening can be requested. Children can receive screenings and, if eligible, referrals to get evaluated for special needs services. These referrals occur through a program called Child Find. Child Find is operated through the school district of the child’s home school, or where they live. Should a child be eligible for evaluation, it would take place with therapists in each specialty from Child Find.
CPCD has become an important part of many children’s lives throughout El Paso County. It has become an ideal program prior to entering kindergarten. While preschool is not a requirement before entering kindergarten, it is a very beneficial program in preparation for kindergarten and the rest of grade school. A child having this school setting experience in preschool prior to entering kindergarten can help with all areas of development as well as the transition from home to the school setting. Head Start especially can help with the social emotional aspect of school and development as well as assist in gaining the skills necessary to interact with peers, regulate their emotions and form friendships. According to Landau, “When they just jump straight from home environment to kindergarten, they are missing a big chunk of that social emotional development of making friends, how to interact with peers, how to share, trade, how to manage their feelings.”
To make the continuation of early education possible, CPCD has multiple partners within the community, ensuring that these families can get what they need to further take care and nurture the children in their care. Some of these partners are the school districts the children will transition to when they go into kindergarten at age five. These school districts include Harrison School District 2, Widefield School District 3, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, Colorado Springs School District 11, Academy School District 20 and Falcon School District 49. CPCD has early education partners as well. These partners include Early Connections Learning Centers, Little Tykes, The Resource Exchange, D11 Adult and Family Education Center, and the U.S. Army Garrison on Fort Carson.
Some of the comprehensive services offered to families through CPCD include partnerships with many organizations and businesses throughout El Paso County. These organizations and businesses include the Army Community Services, AspenPointe, Catholic Charities, Centro de la Familia, Colorado Springs Conservatory, Discover Goodwill, El Paso County Department of Human Services, Kids in Need of Dentistry, Partners in Housing, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, Pikes Peak Community College, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, TESSA and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. CPCD’s systems building partners allow for more services to be available for children and families in need. These partners include Alliance for Kids, Joint Initiatives for Youth and Families, Family Support Center for Autism and Peak Military Care Network.
“The best thing about CPCD is the children and families we serve. Watching them learn and grow, it makes it all worth it.” The staff at CPCD work incredibly hard to make sure they have a safe, nurturing and fun environment for children and families to learn, grow, and prepare for the future.