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Letter to the Editor: Parent Concerned About Closing of Oconee Co. Head Start Facility

Oconee County Head Start slots will be moved to Barrow County after July 2013, according to a mother who writes, "to lose this critical program in our community would be a travesty."

Dear Editor,

I have lived in Oconee County since I was 10 months old.  I am now 32 years old and have no plans of moving out of this county.  This is my home.  My parents have been active members of the community since they moved to Oconee County in August of 1981.  My mother has served on several committees and boards for the community in addition to adopting 18 children over the years with a focus on keeping large sibling groups together and several of my siblings have special needs. 

I am a single mother to a wonderful 4 year old, who has a father that is very active in his life but due to economic factors we are all struggling financially.  My son and I have a support system behind us that is rare and priceless. Thanks to my wonderful family and support system, I have recently re-enrolled in college and I am working towards a degree in nursing. 

My son currently attends the Easter Seals CDC Head Start program in Oconee County (1420 Greensboro Highway) and has attended this program since he was 18 months old.  Watching him excel in this program has pushed me to excel in my own studies.  The staff at our center is amazing, supportive, loving, and family to us.  I have a wonderful support system but I truly feel that for many of the families at the center, the staff and the center itself is their support system.  I feel confident in saying that I am not the only parent at the center that feels this way. 

We recently found out that the Oconee County Head Start slots will be moved to Barrow County after July 2013.  The reasons that we were given for this move were that a building location could not be located in Oconee County that met licensing standards and was within budget, and that Barrow County has a greater need.  I agree that Barrow County’s need is tremendous and in no way am I attempting to belittle that need.  With that said, how can you negate the need of Oconee County due to a greater need in Barrow?  Oconee County children would be able to attend the center in Barrow County, but this poses several issues that I feel we, as Oconee County residents, need to address.

First of all, the majority of the 62 children enrolled at the center and their families would have a 30-45 minute drive, one way, to the new center, which is located in downtown Winder in the old Social Security office.  I personally feel it is unrealistic to believe that families enrolled in a program that was founded to assist families below poverty level can afford to drive this distance twice a day.  This does not even take into account the drive time or distance from their jobs and if those parents have children in the Oconee School system, how are they supposed to be in Winder picking up their Head Start child at 2:30 and be at home in time for bus arrival for their other children?

Transportation was removed from our center last school year and cannot be guaranteed to our children in the future.  Even if it could, state law mandates do not allow children to be on buses longer than 45 minutes.  This time restriction would require all students to be picked up at the same time and be driven straight to school.  For 62 children, I am not sure how that is going to work.  It would require at least 4 buses due to the fact that the smaller buses (and I may be wrong) only seat about 18 children.  Also, these children are required to have safety harnesses on the buses and in addition to the bus driver, there would need to be another adult on the bus.  If funding was not available to provide Oconee County with the two bus routes that we had previously and now we are not able to stay in our building, how can they ever expect to be able to provide transportation for our children? It is just not feasible.

Secondly, any child with special needs that is currently receiving services through the Head Start center will no longer be able to receive those services through the center.  There are some programs that may be able to serve those children at home, but this makes scheduling of services more difficult.  Let’s be realistic, not only do these parents have jobs and things to do when they get home such as housework and errands, but they also want to spend time with their children when they get home not make them work more!

My final point (at the moment) is that I feel that Oconee County often gets a “bad rap” when it comes to obtaining services for low-income residents because of the large population of high-income residents.  The median income in Oconee County is $75,136; the median income for the state of Georgia is only $49,736.  This amount does not in any way mean that we do not have a low-income population that needs assistance. 

Yes, Oconee County has all of the standard assistance programs offered through the Division of Family and Children Services.  Oconee County also has Pre-kindergarten programs and children with disabilities can enter the school system at the age of 3, but there are so many children at the Head Start facility that do not fall into these categories and are going to fall through the cracks because of the inability of the families to transport their children to Barrow County. 

This center is not just a resource for our needy families; it is a support system for them, a learning environment for the children, an outlet for identification of health needs and prevention of future health issues, and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for future generations.  To lose this critical program in our community would be a travesty. 

Studies have shown that participants of the Head Start program are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and are less likely to be incarcerated, or involved in criminal activity.  The children in this program deserve a chance. The bottom line is  that if the slots are in Barrow County, you can say all day long that they are there to serve the Oconee County residents, when the truth in the matter is that the Oconee residents will not be able to get to that center in Barrow. Those slots will end up going to Barrow County children, who I’m sure need this program too, but where does that leave the children of Oconee?

Sincerely,

Desiree Aquino

Secretary for Parent Committee

Secretary for Policy Council

Oconee County Head Start/Early Head Start Center

_________________________________________________________________________________________

For more information about the Georgia Head Start program, visit www.georgiaheadstart.org.

Learn more about the Easter Seals North Georgia at northgeorgia.easterseals.com

denise December 21, 2012 at 11:58 AM
It is such a sad situation. I agree 100% with you. Why should our children also suffer? I have a child that goes there. This is her second year. She is so advanced for her age, thanks to this school. I work an hour from home. I too am also a single parent. This is her last year attending the school, but if she were to go back next year, it would cost me more to have someone drive to get here. We never used the bus, because I would drop her off on the way to work. My mother would leave her job and go pick her up. I understand that everyone cannot be satisfied. Because of no buses this year, the slots were able to be filled by more Oconee residents. Yes, there where many from Barrow there last year, but they had buses meeting them. The demand is very high here. I too have lived here for 30 years. Oconee needs to fight for this. 70% of the people here may not need this program, what about the other 30%? They are not chopped liver.
Racer X December 21, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Instead of your child inspiring YOU to do better, you should be inspiring your child. I think if you were to look closely at this point you would find the answers to most of your problems. I'm sorry, but a 32 year old who learns the value of excelling from their child, instead of the other way around, is just sad. It is awesome that you are pursuing a nursing degree and wish you all the rewards that come from making good choices and striving to better yourself. I hope your child's father can follow suit. A good man should always find a way to provide his child with what he/she needs.
Stephanie Gross December 21, 2012 at 11:15 PM
For those interested, there is a Facebook Page called Parents to keep Head Start in Oconee County http://www.facebook.com/ParentsToKeepHeadStartInOconeeCounty
Debra Knight January 09, 2013 at 02:57 PM
I think in some since some things are taken out of context!! I feel like when reading your reply that the school caters to LOW INCOME families. When I know the facts are income is only one of aspect of the criteria for acceptance!!
Debra Knight January 09, 2013 at 03:18 PM
My opinion is that FACEBOOK is an Exploitation of peoples lives/topic that it pursues! Although this is MY opinion and we all have one I think that if Easter Seals wanted to Advertise on Facebook that should be there choice and no one else should create it for them!! Another thing FACTS are FACTS and opinions are opinions, and I think if this situation was investigated then you would find out that there are VERY few FACTS in the statements made about this situation with Easter Seals!! I have in fact looked deeper into this situation as my child attends Head Start and it too happens to be funded by Easter Seals we are a group of 10 centers in the North East Georgia area! (FACT) The slots are NOT being given to Barrow county but in FACT they are reserved for Oconee County residents! (FACT) Hopefully transportation can and will be provided and the FACTS about that are the buses which ESNG provide do in fact have the proper safety devices for the children. In response to the "time on the bus" there is a simple solution and that would be the same thing that the other centers in NE Ga who have buses do, which is a meeting point( have your child there @ a certain time & pick your child up @ the same location @ a certain time) It works for the other locations and I will have to say most of the other counties are larger and more rural than Oconee! Please remember ESNG is not just for low income and /or children with disabilities!! To advertise our centers this way is very UNFAIR!!
Desiree Aquino January 18, 2013 at 08:05 PM
Yes income is only one of the aspects of the criteria for acceptance…some of the other criteria is: • Is it a single parent home or a two parent home? • Are the parent(s) working or enrolled in school? • If the family is over the income eligibility level, does that child have a disability that would qualify them for the program? So yes income is only one of the aspects of the criteria for acceptance but the FACT is that the program was founded to “cater” to families that are lower income (FACT-http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/) “Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.” You refer to this as if it were derogatory to the families. This is in no way a demeaning statement toward a person’s character or moral standards. It is a FACT about their financial situation. The fact that a family is in this financial situation does not say anything about what kind of people they are or what kind of family they are, it doesn't even tell you why they are in the situation that they are in.
Desiree Aquino January 18, 2013 at 08:06 PM
The Facebook page does not advertise for Easter Seals for one, the purpose of the page was to bring the community into the situation which Easter Seals has conveniently not done. Head Start was founded on the principles of bringing families and the COMMUNITY together (FACT-please reference the video http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/history-of-head-start) and there are other centers that use Facebook as an outlet to reach parents to remind of parent meetings, early release days, and other notifications. If Easter Seals (or the National/Regional Offices of Head Start) took issue with this I am sure that those pages would have been taken down. Bottom line is the right to free speech. Just as you have the right to your opinion about Facebook, I have the right to raise awareness to my community of the situation with our center if Easter Seals is not going to. The potential families that this decision is going to affect have the right to know what’s going on just as much as we do. Let’s be honest, this does not just effect the children attending this year or next year, it effects all the children that will be attending or more accurately will not be able to attend due to the fact that the center will be in Barrow County.
Desiree Aquino January 18, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Dear Ms Knight Easter Seals is currently the Grantee for 6 counties which includes 11 centers (FACT-NOT 10), the slots are not being given to Barrow County and I never stated that in my letter (FACT). As I stated the slots are being moved to a new facility located in downtown Winder (FACT). As far as these slots being “reserved” for Oconee County residents, Easter Seals has yet to provide documentation on how they are going to legally do this. You commented earlier of criteria for enrollment, in which each criteria met is given a certain amount of points and that is how they determine eligibility (FACT). A child does not receive points for living in or out of the county (FACT). At the current point system for acceptance a child from Barrow County with a higher level of eligibility should receive a spot before a child in Oconee County.
Desiree Aquino January 18, 2013 at 08:19 PM
Ms Knight As far as transportation, I state in my letter that transportation cannot be guaranteed and this has been stated by Easter Seals representatives several times, not only at the policy council meeting but also at the closed parent meeting at our center (FACT). I agree that your “simple solution” works for other counties due to the fact that the entire county would not be depending on the busses to get their children to the center. I would like to point out that I did make that point in my letter (if you read it clearly and not with anger) “This time restriction would require all students to be picked up at the same time and be driven straight to school. For 62 children, I am not sure how that is going to work. It would require at least 4 buses due to the fact that the smaller buses (and I may be wrong) only seat about 18 children.” My point is that Easter Seals currently only owns 3 buses (FACT) and in order for them to provide transportation for Oconee County they would need to purchase not only buses but the safety harnesses, hire drivers, and assistants for the routes. I venture to say that maybe you have taken offence to my letter for the wrong reasons, and if it offended you I am sorry. With that said, if you take the term “low income” as a derogatory term then maybe you should reevaluate the definition of the term. This words describe a financial situation only (FACT), it does not say anything about a person’s character or moral standing.
denise January 19, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Well said. And that is a FACT.
Debra Knight January 24, 2013 at 03:34 PM
This is not a FACT there are families with children in the school whom in fact have a medium to high income but may be a single parent home so NO this school does NOT in fact cater LOW INCOME I think your education has went to your head check your FACTS before you state ANY thing!!!! This is not about your school being taken away from you!!! When in FACT ..... you have been promised the slots and you will get the slots!! What you want to do is cause an issue where there is NO issue the FACTS here are as of July 13th you have NO center location!!! The lease is up & your out on the street. I found through my investigating that for approx 5-7years "ESNG" has TRIED adamantly to secure a location inside our county (Oconee) for the center with NO avail!! Instead of trying to fix an unfix-able problem at this point why not give ESNG the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to serve us although it may be in another county, THE SLOTS ARE IN FACT RESERVED FOR OCONEE COUNTY and that is the FACTS!!! If they fail to do as promised then that is where there is a problem!! GIve the chance for our center employees to keep their jobs and our students the opportunity they deserve to attend school. Also stop wasting your time digging up this law and that law and this website and that website that doesnt matter, and find a location for our kids to go to school in the county that meet requirements. If you think ESNG is duping us prove them wrong FIND that location you say is out there!!!!
Debra Knight January 24, 2013 at 03:42 PM
You know what if a parent can't afford to take their child back & forth to school then how are they paying for the internet to have Facebook? When in fact I know I can use the computer in our resource center or I can go to the library well you know what it takes GAS to get to those places too!! So What you are saying is that Oconee parents are spending $ on Internet or gas to go to libraries or other locales to get on the internet when the simple solution would be to use the gas to carpool with other parents and get your child to school no matter where it is!!
Debra Knight January 24, 2013 at 03:56 PM
NO there again you are misrepresenting the FACTS!! I as a parent of a head start student in fact contacted the head office and requested a copy of any minutes pertaining to this situation from the policy council and promptly received them!! Although I had some questions about the December meeting in which this decision was made. WHERE it is made VERY VERY clear that the slots are in fact reserved for OCONEE county!! The facts are that that particular location will ONLY accept applications from OCONEE county residents!!!!! you should know this as you are the secretary of the policy council & if you did not put this in the minutes then you have falsified them because upon my investigation and speaking to several of the Policy Council members they are in fact doing damage control where you are not giving ALL the facts to everyone just what you believe & want them to hear. ALL (3) of the members had the same Facts about how the selection process would go and that ONLY Our Oconee county residents would be able to apply to that location!! I don't understand why you can't appreciate the fact that our children have had the opportunity to go to school as Head Start is in fact NOT a required level of education!! How do you think that all the other counties in Georgia feel?
Debra Knight January 24, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Your FACTS about the buses are WRONG again there are 3 AVAILABLE buses!!! Here again providing info you want to get out there not the truth. And by the way you will not convince anybody that EVERY child in that school will have to in fact ride the bus or did when we had buses!! As I take my children and pick them up and sometimes allow others to ride with me and mine ride with others and I will continue to do so if the center is moved to Barrow county!!! There will be some but NOT all I am insulted that you are providing this information with out 100% backing from the parents in our school !! Don't make it a fact unless you have a signed toll FROM 100% of us. I do NOT want you speaking for me!!
Debra Knight January 24, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Check you facts Denise those are NOT facts!!
Debra Knight January 24, 2013 at 04:03 PM
By the way this web-link you have provided does not exist so if you are gonna provide them then provide legitimate ones. Please
Racer X January 24, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Y'all want some facts? Look at the impact study preformed on Headstart. They have been sitting on the results for months. It turns out all the the Headstart program has been a complete waste of the millions of dollars pumped into it, a complete waste. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/research/project/head-start-impact-study-and-follow-up-2000-2012 Millions and millions of dollars blown away.
Desiree Aquino January 24, 2013 at 11:00 PM
As far as the web address, it is a legitimate address... www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/ this is the official page of the National Office of Head Start
Desiree Aquino January 24, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Well and now I am confused seeing as how the meeting minutes from the December meeting have not been approved so not sure how you could have the finalized minutes from that meeting, and no where in the pre-approved minutes does it state that ONLY applications from Oconee county resident will be accepted? I do appreciate the opportunity that my child had to go to Head Start which is why I feel so strongly about the situation.
Desiree Aquino January 24, 2013 at 11:57 PM
I have been at every parent meeting at the school, spent countless hours in the hallways during dropoff and pickup times talking with parents to gather concerns, questions, views, & not once have I met you Ms. Knight so unless you are not using your real name or if you are not a parent of the Oconee Center then I am not "speaking" for you! My Facebook page was discussed at the December Parent meeting and the decision to keep the page up and running was approved by the parents at that meeting unanimously. If you would like to discuss this matter further I will be in attendance at tomorrows parent meeting at 8:15, otherwise you can contact me directly. I find it odd that you have such an opinion about my advocating for the Oconee Center on this outlet but yet no attempt to actually contact myself to discuss this matter has been made.
denise January 25, 2013 at 01:35 AM
Ms. Knight, I am sorry to disagree with you on the FACTS. Busses, there are three. Maybe you should read again as to what Ms. Aquino wrote. And I quote..My point is that Easter Seals currently only owns 3 buses (FACT) and in order for them to provide transportation for Oconee County they would need to purchase not only buses but the safety harnesses, hire drivers, and assistants for the routes."
denise January 25, 2013 at 01:36 AM
Ms. Knight, Are you an Oconee resident?
denise January 25, 2013 at 01:55 AM
And one more thing, going back to income. I am a "low income" parent. I HAVE Internet. But guess what, my neighbor allows me to use theirs. I have a job, which I have access to Internet all day. Comcast offers free Internet to low income people. Oh, and they may have a free phone with limited minutes. As far as using gas to go the library to use Internet, good for them. Take the kids with you to read. If that is their only means to put in applications for jobs, if their older kids need to research a paper for school, or low and behold, look at facebook, that is their choice. That person may live within walking distance. What makes you think that someone with low income can't have Internet? You know nothing of these people.

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