April 23, 2004 – The children were having fun as only children can — running foot races, playing tag, observing a colony of ants marching in a line. About 20 them, ages 3 to 4½, dressed in blue T-shirts for easy identification, were enjoying special activities marking the Week of the Young Child.
Keeping close watch on them all, several adults wearing similar shirts sat under a tent or shepherded wayward children along outside the Marley/Prince Street Head Start Center.
The Week of the Young Child, which runs through Saturday, is an initiative of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Locally, the Human Services Department's Head Start centers have been hosting activities all week in keeping with this year's theme –"Children's Opportunities Are Our Responsibilities."
The week's emphasis has been on the importance of children's first few years in shaping their learning and development. Early childhood educators have been urging a public commitment to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment — at home, at child care, at school and in the community — that will promote early learning.
Thursday's activities for the children of the Frederiksted center included storytelling, cake-baking demonstrations, a bus trip to the Patrick Sweeney Headquarters to see the Canine Corps dogs and jazzy nursery rhymes. The Education Complex band Caribbean Fusion and the quelbe group Bully and the Kafooners came out to play for the youngsters.
Lavern James, who has 15 years of experience in early childhood and special needs education, smiled as she surveyed the children in her care and explained how the Head Start program serves the community. "We give the children nutrition and health care," she said. "We work on their cognitive, emotional and social skills."
But also, she added, "we serve the entire family. We help parents get skills, find jobs and get needed government assistance."
The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays to accommodate working parents. James is the only certified teacher; the other staff consist of two assistant teachers and a cook — plus at least seven parents and grandparents who volunteer on a regular basis.
James said the positive reaction of the community is very encouraging. "This week has been a great way to focus on the Head Starts," she said. "Many people were not aware of what we do here. All the volunteers want to come back again."
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