More than 1 million children receive comprehensive services annually through Head Start programs around the nation, including southern Colorado.
October is Head Start Awareness Month and an opportunity for communities to celebrate local Head Start programs like Otero College Child Development Services programs located throughout the Lower Arkansas Valley and San Luis Valley.
Nationally and locally, Head Start continually works toward the mission of ensuring eligible children and families receive high-quality services in safe and healthy settings that prepare children for school and life.
“Head Start implements researched-based practices and curriculum to prepare staff, children and families and help them be successful,” Tracey Lucero, Executive Director, said.
Through its Early Head Start, Head Start and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs, Child Development Services works to be the foundation of the public education system as it helps prepare children to enter the school system. Collectively, Child Development Services, headquartered in La Junta, provides services for one-fourth (25 percent) of Colorado’s preschool-aged children throughout the Lower Arkansas Valley and the San Luis Valley including programs in Lamar, Las Animas, La Junta, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Boone, Alamosa and Center. In La Junta and Rocky Ford, CDS also provides classroom services through the Colorado Preschool Program. Early Head Start home-based and center-based services are provided in Otero, Bent, Crowley and Pueblo counties.
Head Start programs are designed to provide comprehensive programming services to meet the emotional, social, health, nutritional and educational needs of children and families. All children enrolled in Head Start programs are offered medical, dental, hearing, vision, and behavioral screenings, healthy and nutritious meals and snacks and learning and educational opportunities.
Teachers needed and investing in the workforce
Similar to the nation’s trend of teacher shortages, Early Childhood Education is also experiencing a shortage of qualified teachers. To help fill vacant teacher positions, CDS offers tuition assistance for those looking to obtain degrees in Early Childhood Education.
“Otero College Child Development Services is a great place to work,” Lucero said. “It has been a game changer for many early childhood educators who began as volunteers or parents or have made the journey to early childhood education from other education fields. We offer continuous professional development to help develop skills and relationships which strengthen child outcomes.”
The state of Colorado is offering free ECE 101 and ECE 103 courses through selected two-year and four-year colleges.
Other avenues of professional development include online training aligning with childcare licensing; training and technical assistance, both in-person and online, and by the Office of Head Start; in-house trainings by the management team consisting of staff with master’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees.
Professional development is just one way CDS has invested in the workforce.
Kicking off a mental wellness program, CDS has provided gym memberships for employees; all-staff meetings with food, entertainment and mental wellness activities; Friday food days for staff and monetary stipends, which will continue throughout the year.
“To show staff they are the heart of the program, we have been giving back to them any chance we can,” Lucero said. “Early childhood educators are truly the heart of education.”
Earlier this year, the Office of Head Start kicked off its theme “Head Start is Heart Work” which identified its priorities as advancing equity, reaching children and families, investing in the workforce and pandemic recovery. The theme and priorities have trickled down to the local level in each of the Head Start programs.
At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Lucero welcomed the team of 130-plus employees who support the local Head Start preschool programs by telling them “Head Start is Heart Work and you are the heart.”
Anyone interested in learning more about employment opportunities with CDS can visit www.cdsheadstart.com.
Enrollment happening now
Otero College Child Development Services is still enrolling children for its Head Start and Colorado Preschool programs in Lamar, Las Animas, La Junta, Rocky Ford and Manzanola. Children must be ages 3-5 years old. It is also enrolling children for CPP in La Junta and Rocky Ford. Transportation is provided in Manzanola and partially in Rocky Ford.
For more information about Early Head Start, Head Start or Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, or to enroll your child, please visit www.cdsheadstart.com or call 719-384-3100.
Did you know?
- Otero College Child Development Services provides services to one-fourth (25 percent) of Colorado’s preschool-aged students.
- Otero College Child Development Services has an app available in both the Google Play and Apple App stores.
- CDS has centers in Lamar, Las Animas, La Junta, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Boone, Center and Alamosa and provides Early Head Start services throughout Otero and Pueblo counties.
- The entire program is led by an Executive Director with a master’s degree in Education: Literacy, Language, Culture.
- The Education team is led by a manager with a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.
- The Disabilities team is led by a manager with a master’s degree in Special Education.
- Nationally, more than 320,000 children and their families transition from Head Start programs to kindergarten every year. Get answers to your questions about Head Start services and apply at cdsheadstart.com
- Head Start programs deliver services to children and families in core areas of early learning, health, and family well-being while engaging parents as partners every step of the way.
Pictured: Otero College Child Development Services staff participated in a Parent Family Community Engagement training presented by Alicia Franco, Region XII Family Engagement Specialist, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, Early Care and Education, Policy and Practice (left) and Tina House, Region XII Family Engagement Specialist, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, Early Care and Education, Policy and Practice.