Local mom fights for early education funding in D.C.

Teacher Laurel Fagan introduces preschool students Jayden Price, left, and Roni Jack to instruments during morning circle time in a 3- and 4-year-olds Head Start class this September. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Teacher Laurel Fagan introduces preschool students Jayden Price, left, and Roni Jack to instruments during morning circle time in a 3- and 4-year-olds Head Start class this September.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

An Oak Harbor parent led a group to Washington, D.C., last month to ask government officials to push early childhood education funding through Congress.

Kylee Allen, a parent coordinator of the Washington State Association of Head Start, teaches low-income parents how to advocate for themselves and their kids.

The national Head Start nonprofit program, which has two locations in Oak Harbor, helps developmentally disabled and low-income children get ready for school and empowers their parents. Head Start includes preschool classes, homeschooling, parent counseling and aids families in finding necessary services like food bank programs.

According to a release from Joel Ryan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Head Start, if Congress doesn’t pass the president’s budget request for Head Start funding, 1,054 children in Washington, and more than 60,000 nationwide, will be dropped from the program by October 2011.

Allen said what that means for Oak Harbor is cutting 20 kids and 6.5 jobs. She said her meetings with senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell last week seemed successful, and she thinks having heard the testimonies from her parent group, the senators will give Head Start a stronger voice in D.C.

“They were severly touched by the emotional stories and journeys that the parents have been through,” she said. “I think it was very powerful.”

Allen was introduced to Head Start years ago after going through a divorce. She had two young children with speech problems and another that challenged her daily. Someone referred her to the program, and she was taken in right away. Her children were placed in classes and she attended parent advisory groups and eventually other social functions.

“It really wasn’t just a preschool for my children,” Allen said. “I had just extended my family on the island. When I didn’t have money for groceries, I went to the Head Start and they told me where to go.”

While her kids were in preschool, Allen was able to finish her education and receive her bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in business finance, graduating with honors.

Allen said her family is proof that Head Start parents see results. Though her children started out challenged, she said on their first day of kindergarten the teacher was impressed and said she could tell they had gone through early education classes.

“Early Head Start works, not just as a comprehensive preschool program, but it creates stronger families,” she said. “When I look at my life and I see where I am, I don’t think I would be here without it.”

Oak Harbor’s Head Start program recently moved into three classrooms at the Hand-In-Hand Early Learning Center in the old Clover Valley Elementary School building on Cherokee Street.

Along with Head Start, the facility is now home to the district’s HomeConnection, a program for homeschooled students and their parents.

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