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Lead co-teacher, John Ruiz, dances with the children of Poupard Elementary School’s Head Start program. Director Teresa Harrington, middle, and a parent, right, participate as well. photo by Renee Landuyt.

January 10, 2013
There's a saying in Head Start circles around the country. "Head Start in my heart," said Teresa Harrington, Head Start Director at Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, mostly because "if it gets in your heart, you're there for life, you're just a lifer."

Lead co-teacher, Maggie Schumaker, left, teaches Konner Green gross motor skills, such as using scissors to cut on the lines.
Harrington is a former Head Start parent-turned-lifer, actively working with the federal school readiness program for early childhood-aged children of low-income families since 1994, with Wayne Metro since 1998. As director, she manages program operations in Hamtramck, Highland Park, Harper Woods and now, thanks to principal Penny Stocks's relentless pursuit, in Grosse Pointe, specifically, at Poupard Elementary School.

The program started at Poupard this past September, allowing 20 Grosse Pointe families the benefit of an early childhood educational offering, using the High Scope Curriculum, that individualizes instruction based on students' needs in areas such as gross motor skills, pre-math, pre-science, pre-literacy, diversity and culture.

"High Scope works in a way where it's child-centered," said Maggie Schumaker, the lead co-teacher at Poupard, along with Juan Ruiz. "We find things that they're interested in and we find ways to scaffold that so they understand."

Another component of Head Start to aid children's understanding is the program's focus on routine. Each day in Poupard's Head Start classroom plays out similarly, with some pattern of reading time, washing hands, breakfast, more books, message boards, letters and phonological awareness, numbers and number concepts, large groups and small groups, recess, singing and dancing, lunch, nap time and recall.

It's advantageous to children, Schumaker said, in that it offers them some security, some comfort and awareness in surrounding and expectation.

"The daily routine is what makes our classroom work," she said. "With children, the way their brain works and the way they learn things is through repetition. So, having the same pattern everyday, with new materials and new things, of course, it gives them that sense of security. They know what to expect and they thrive."

Just as their children do, parents also thrive in the program. Through classroom volunteering, meetings and consistent communication between parent and teachers, parents become heavily involved in their child's education, a lasting impact of the program that Stocks sees as a positive as the children continue their educational growth through the school.

"Anything they do with the kids and the parents is going to be an advantage for us," Stocks said. "I just see it as a really positive partnership with Head Start and the school."

It's that foundational experience, that shared connectedness in education between child and parent that drew Stocks to the program and led her to a yearlong commitment to ensuring the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education approved the partnership between Head Start and the district.

For her commitment and efforts in working with Harrington and Wayne Metro to establish a community partnership, Stocks and the Poupard program recently earned an award from Wayne Metro for what Harrington said is for "being such awesome community partners."

"Because that's really what it's about — community partnerships and working together for the good of the community," Harrington said. "It just worked really well. It's benefiting 20 kids and 20 families."

That's 20 kids and 20 families who, in time, may very well catch the bug Harrington once did and soon have Head Start in their hearts, too.

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