Head Start, Early Head Start or Early Head Start Child Care Partnership.

From the oven of success has come one of the Delta Health Alliance’s most fruitful offerings: the Sunflower County Head Start / Early Head Start Childcare Partnership – an early learning program that expanded significantly recently under the leadership of the Delta Health Alliance. 

Linda Stevenson knows the recipe. So do Kenya Raymond and Johnnie Mae Rodney. 

First, take hundreds of children ages 0-3 and combine them with a team of dedicated, well-trained child-care staff members. Then, mix a creative curriculum with a network of recently renovated, modern learning centers. Finally, add a helping of family outreach services with a quality healthcare component. The result is a quality early learning program that prepares children for success in kindergarten and beyond. 

Stevenson, Raymond and Rodney, staff members at the Imaginarium Learning Center in Drew, Little Angels Day Care in Moorhead and Be’Be’ Kids Learning Center in Indianola, respectively, are all part of DHA’s early learning program that is helping change lives in the Mississippi Delta. 

“It’s so important for these kids that all the parts of the partnership work together to give us the results we’re looking for — which is a community of healthy children ready to start school,” said Stevenson. 

Recently, DHA received funding to expand the Head Start program in Sunflower County. The five-year grant, provided through the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, now encompasses five additional childcare facilities located in Drew, Moorhead, Sunflower, Ruleville, and Indianola. The Early Head Start component of the Sunflower County Childcare Partnership is a continuation of the efforts previously provided by Save the Children. 

DHA already oversaw childcare partnerships serving six childcare centers throughout Sunflower County. 

Since forming, the childcare partnership has adhered to five primary goals: 

(1) Building capacity and providing technical support of childcare centers in Sunflower County. 

(2) Providing training and certification for all centers. 

(3) Increasing parental engagement at centers and improving access to support services. 

(4) Increasing the number of children enrolled in and utilizing the childcare subsidy program. 

(5) Improving the financial viability of centers.

“We have met and exceeded our goals,” said Roshunda Samples, a DHA program director who oversees the Early Head Start program. “The statistics are all positive, but they only tell part of the story. Our mission is to really change the lives of the youngest members of our community, as well as their families; and we are doing that in a real and self-sustaining way.”

While the statistics are positive, the full picture only comes into focus by adding other elements, including: 

“The Creative Curriculum for Infants, Toddlers, & Twos,” a component that provides theory, research and best practices for responsive teaching and caring for very young children. Taught by instructors from Teaching Strategies, the onsite training in Indianola has reached 52 teachers from the six childcare centers. 

Staff member training. Early Head Start teachers have taken part in a training program called “Conscious Discipline,” to provide additional skills and techniques to use with children ages 0-3. 

Childcare centers that meet the needs of children. Through the partnership, childcare centers have undergone multi-million-dollar renovations to better serve the kids in a more welcoming learning environment. Flooring, roofing, lighting, bathrooms and kitchens have been remodeled to make these facilities more efficient and usable.

“Children represent our most vulnerable population and we have to build programs that ensure them a healthy and vibrant future,” said Samples. “Early Head Start is one way to meet those needs. This is a community effort that involves parents, schools, churches and businesses. We all have a role to play.”

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