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V.I. Youngsters Get Head Start on Education

Sept. 6, 2004 – More than 1,100 territory youngsters will hear school bells for the first time as the Head Start program starts Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Ed Lind, preschool coordinator in the Human Services Department's St. Thomas/St. John district, said that Head Start registered 410 children for this year's program. Shawn Miller, who holds the same job in St. Croix, said that her district has 756 students.
Lind said that St. Thomas has 18 Head Start centers. St. John has one. Miller said that St. Croix has 27 centers at 14 different locations.
"Our job is to teach them to be kindergarten ready," Lind said.
Miller called it a jump-start. "It's just what the program implies – a head start," she said.
Lind said that kindergarten teachers often complain that students who went through the Head Start program ask too many questions and want to get their fingers into everything. Lind sees that as a plus.
He said the students learn social skills such as how to work as a team and in a group. "You'll often see groups of children finger painting," he said.
Miller said that participation in Head Start programs helps with separation because the program gives them experience away from their mothers.
Lind said that the months have themes like "Meet Your Neighbor," which would involve a field trip around the neighborhood.
He said that Head Start programs do not include television or video viewing, but students do learn some computer skills.
"And they learn basics like left from right," he said.
Lind said the territory would get $7.3 million a year from the federal government this year to fund Head Start. The local government chips in another $3 million.
The program, initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson, began in 1965. Johnson started the program to give children from low-income families a head start when they got to kindergarten.
According to the Health and Human Services Web site, in 2003, the program served a total of 909,608 children on the mainland and in U.S. territories. Since its start in 1965, more than 22 million children across the country have benefited from the program.
It costs federal taxpayers $6.7 billion a year to fund.
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