Payson Head Start is an early childhood program that is governmentally funded and provides services to lower income families and children with disabilities.
"The goals of our agency are to provide accessible, comprehensive, early childhood programs, promote family literacy for the development of self-sufficient and healthy families, and to be recognized as a quality program with diverse knowledge and skills," said director Lynne S. Winans.
The program offers "creative curriculum" at the preschool level and operates from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday. Breakfast and lunch are provided and complete health screenings are ensured, with follow-ups as needed.
One such health activity is learning healthy eating habits and dental hygiene. Both are an important component of early childhood development, said teacher AnnMaree Thompson and local dentist William Blackmore.
"We brush our teeth after breakfast every day at school," Thompson said. "It teaches them good hygiene. We also teach them to wash their hands and rinse their toothbrush out. We don't serve snacks, we serve breakfast and lunch. We teach the children to eat good nutritious food. We talk about it at the table."
Blackmore sent Melissa Wood, hygiene coordinator, and Denae Balke, dental hygienist, to reinforce the lessons of brushing teeth early in the school year.
For Thompson, introducing Wood and Balke is another opportunity to teach her students about strangers.
"If strangers come with a parent or we introduce them, it is OK," she said.
Students received a new toothbrush and toothpaste, along with a coloring sheet that went with the video. The bag included a sticker book, where a sticker can be placed for each day the child brushes their teeth twice.
There was also a booklet put out by Crest informing parents about tooth development and care, fluoride and nutrition.
The Head Start program offers a wide variety of hands-on activities that incorporates kindergarten readiness skills, including literacy, number recognition, reasoning, problem solving and decision-making.
Winans said a large part of the program is to help the children develop feelings of competence, self-esteem, self-control and a positive attitude about learning.
Head Start encourages family involvement and provides parent training, workshops and other opportunities for families to become a valuable part of the program. Volunteering in the classroom, field trips, monthly parent meetings, home visits and participating in lesson and menu planning are just a few ways families support the program.
Staff is available to assist with community resources and referrals as needed, and encourage family goal-setting to create positive family relationships and achievement within the family unit, Winans said.
Payson Head Start was recently recertified for accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The association created its accreditation program to set professional standards for early childhood education, and to help families identify high-quality child care and early education programs. This accreditation lets Payson families know that children are getting the best care and early learning experiences with Head Start, Winans said.
In addition to learning lessons to make them better prepared for school and life, the youngsters in Head Start and their families also had the opportunity in 2005 to learn about helping others.
The school participated in a Scholastic reading program that provided Hurricane Katrina victims with 100 free books.
For information regarding the Head Start program, call (928) 474-2738. The facility is at 1008 S. Westerly Road, Payson. Children, ages 3 to 5, may be enrolled now for classes starting in August.