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Plum City to introduce Head Start program

The Plum City 2017 4K class (front row, from left) teacher Jill Bechel, Allyson Francis, Axel Infante, Torey Eggenberger, Lincoln Smith, DaMaris Maciel, teacher Kristen Elbe; (back row) 4K-12 Principal Michael Kennedy, Jackson Morth, Jay-Jay Oberg, Nolan Bartsh, Mikayla Nelson, Cameron Bechel, Gage Hince and Owen Wood. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia

Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, the Plum City School District will offer a Head Start program for 3- and 4-year-old students.

Head Start first began in 1965 as a way to help low-income children prepare for elementary school in a summer program.

Plum City 4K-12 Principal Michael Kennedy said the district applied for a grant in last fall and contacted Beth Tilleson, the CESA-11 Head Start Director. Kennedy asked Tilleson if Head Start made sense for Plum City.

"Head Start's not something, it may not be a need in every community," Kennedy said.

The program will be for 4K students to get, as the name says, a head start on education and adapting to a school environment.

Currently, the 4K system used at Plum City is funded for 60 percent, meaning students can come for three days a week. Head Start would allow students to come for five days a week for a normal school day.

"Obviously being in school three days a week or being in a school five days a week, where are you going to get the greater gain?" Kennedy said. "Obviously five days a week."

Kristen Elbe is in her third year at Plum City and taught at Prescott for seven years. Elbe taught third and fifth grade, but switched to teaching 4-year-olds because it was something she aspired to do since college.

"I got the chance to come down to this level," Elbe said. "For two reasons, one reason is I can be home with my own little kids more. Then this age is just so eager to learn."

The district will hire an additional teacher to work with Elbe. With one teacher covering Tuesday and Thursday, the other will cover the remaining days, and both teachers will be present on Fridays.

Students 3- and 4-years-old are able to join. There will be two sections 20-30 students in each. Five Head Start slots will available for students not necessarily in the district.

The class time will be "play based" in its learning. Since this will be one of the first, if not the first, time a child will be away from his or her parent(s) for a significant time, the child will have a big learning curve.

"We want a play-based approach," Kennedy said. "We want kids to love school. That's the goal."

Kennedy and Elbe say they want to work on students' fine motor skills.

Kennedy said the students in the Head Start program will attend three days of 4K and two additional days of Head Start.

"We strongly believe families that are going to be a part of Head Start, that's going to be a perk there," Kennedy said. "Daycare maybe isn't as big of a burden for your family if that's part of it."

Elbe echoed Kennedy's statements on finding daycare being difficult and said having children enrolled in school at a younger age shows, statistically, that children are more successful later on in life.

"Those early years are huge," Elbe said. "If you can put the money towards early, you'll see the results down the line."

Plum City also has Early Head Start, for children ages birth to 3-years-old. The children can come in once or twice a month with their parents and socialize with other children while parents can receive tips.

Hudson, New Richmond, Menomonie and Ellsworth also have Head Start programs.

Kennedy said the best way to get enrolled is to contact the school by stopping in, calling, or email.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. 

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