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Emma Harluck, left, shows off the jingle bell bracelet she made to fellow Mahube Head Start student Rain Johnson. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

Mahube Head Start a comprehensive program

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Mahube Community Council's Head Start program isn't just about preparing 4 and 5 years olds for kindergarten. It's a much more comprehensive program.

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And it's not just about preparing the children, but their parents as well.

Mahube's Head Start has been running since 1966, and in the early 1990s, thanks to an expansion grant, the Early Head Start program was started for ages pre-natal to 3.

Last year, Mahube served 481 children, and with a recent stimulus grant, they expect to add 48 more children for an 18-month period.

"In the pre-school world, we're the best kept secret in town," Director Margaret Aho said.

Head Start

Ninety percent of the children in Head Start meet the required 100 percent poverty level. The other 10 percent are those with special needs but may be above poverty level.

"What's outstanding is that we have a waiting list," Mahube Executive Director Leah Pigatti said of the Head Start program. Over 100 children are on that list, and Aho and Pigatti agreed they have seen an increase in need the last couple years with the downturn in the economy.

"One reason is we're a good program, but also because there are so many families in need," Pigatti added.

But with the added stimulus money Mahube just received, they will be able to serve 48 more students for the next one and a half years.

"We're very excited, very enthusiastic," Pigatti said of receiving the funding. "It's a good thing because we're assisting families who need it."

The center base, located in Mahube, hosts morning and afternoon Head Start classes. Each group is three and a half hours long, and meets four days a week.

There is also a Head Start location at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes. That class is structured differently because of family needs.

Instead of either morning or afternoon classes, that Head Start runs all day, five days a week as a parent's college course schedule would. There are three classes -- two toddler and one pre-school -- with 36 children enrolled in that location.

Students at the Mahube location are given breakfast, lunch and a snack, and those at the college location are given breakfast and lunch, and have a quiet time to rest in the afternoon.

The format of Head Start is structured with area schools in mind. Kids ride the bus, as they will when attending public school. They take fieldstrips, and Mahube collaborates with schools on other activities.

The kids are taught to take off their coats, put them in their cubbies, stand in line, and follow a routine.

Children from seven different school districts attend Head Start, and Mahube must meet requirements to work with those districts.

The requirements and standards for Head Start are lengthy. There are about 2,000 requirements they must follow.

"We're constantly making sure we are meeting the regulations," Aho said. "Not only do we want to be providing quality services, but we're mandated."

Pilot program

Any schools using the Smart program with their young learners have Mahube to thank.

Mahube' Head Start served as the pilot program for Smart learning, where a different style of learning is incorporated into the everyday routine of learning.

Aho calls the Smart program "old playground" learning with the spinning, bouncing, and colors. By stimulating kids, it's helping them concentrate on learning and helping improve those skills.

Four years into the program, Mahube still uses it, and Minnesota Resource Center, which provided the training to implement the program, is actually following the children who used it in Mahube into the public schools to see how it helps there as well.

Home base

With the home base program, a teacher goes out into homes once a week.

"The purpose is to teach the parent to teach the child," Aho said. "The teacher is also a social worker that works with the parent."

The home base program is for pre-natal through age 5. Once a week then, all those involved come to Mahube for socialization as well. That's for children and parents.

"They are very, very embedded in the Head Start," she said. "It's important to look at the family as a whole."

For the pre-natal to age 3 group, the parents are actually required to attend the socialization day at Mahube.

"We're modeling for parents, how to deal with these situations," she said.

When working with the pre-natal or newborns, Aho said the teachers/social workers will teach parents what to be looking for in their child, what they should be doing by a certain age. They also make sure the mother and/or child are eating properly.

Many of the mothers, she said, are teens.

"Our goal is working with young girls that may not have that support system."

With so many cuts in public schools, she added, programs like home economics and others that teach anything about parenting or running a household are being cut and leaving young parents with little to no skills.

More than education

"It's not just education based," Aho explained.

It's also looking at making sure children are up to date on their vaccines and wellness check ups.

"If a child isn't healthy, they're not going to learn," she said.

It's also keeping up with dental records, nutrition, mental health and family services, whether it be fuel assistance, housing assistance, goal setting, or cooking.

"The thing we see over and over is families don't know how to cook," Barb Martin said. She serves as the family services director at Mahube.

There are so many levels of need, she said, because each family makes a list of goals.

Some of those goals and sources could be finding a job through Rural Minnesota CEP for example, which 80 percent of those that listed getting a job as a goal reached that goal.

Involving fathers is another important aspect Mahube stresses.

"It's not only for the child but for the family as well," Pigatti said. "We link families to many resources in the community."

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