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Plum City helps students advance early on

Plum City 4K and Head Start students went to Maple Leaf Orchard in Spring Valley in October. The Plum City Head Start Program is integrated with the 4K program and gives students an opportunity to improve their education at an early age. Submitted photo

Providing the next generation of students with a solid educational foundation is what the Plum City Head Start Program is trying to do for students.

The Plum City Head Start program started in the 2017-18 school year and Plum City 4K-12th grade principal Mike Kennedy said Plum City's Head Start program is unique. While in most schools, Kennedy said the Head Start Program is a separate class for children who qualify, Plum City has integrated the program into its 4-year-old kindergarten classes. Students that qualify for the Head Start Program go to Head Start two days per week and 4K the other three days of the week.

"By being involved in the Head Start program, I see the opportunity for students to benefit from a structured, positive environment, if those students do not have access to that on the days on which 4K is not held," said Plum City 4K teachers Zahida Leech and Kristen Elbe.

In Plum City there are two separate 4K classes. One that meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other one that meets Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Kennedy said Head Start students go to one 4K class three days a week and the other 4K class two days a week as part of their Head Start program.

"We don't want to be any different between Head Start and 4K students," Kennedy said. "They are all Plum City students."

Treating all students the same is something the 4K teachers strive for in their classrooms.

"[W]e make it top priority to give all of our students, Head Start or not, the same educational opportunities and individualization to meet their goals as well," Leech and Elbe said.

With having the students be part of the normal 4K class, Kennedy said the hope is there will be less worry of Head Start students having a "stigma" associated with them as they are part of the 4K program, as all the other students are.

The Head Start program is federally funded, so the money for the program is not coming from local taxpayer money, referendum money or general fund money.

He said the program was started to help at risk youth be provided the best chance to get the most out of their education. Parents have to fill out applications to see if their child qualifies. Most of the children qualify for the program based on the family income level.

When families apply for the Head Start program, the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA 11) looks through the applications and determines who qualifies for the program.

Kennedy said they work directly with CESA 11 and Beth Tilleson Head Start Director and have had lots of help from them in setting up their program. Kennedy said everyone has been great working with Plum City and "thinking outside the box" so they could have a Head Start program. While integrating the Head Start and 4K programs isn't how most schools run their Head Start Program, he said it works for them and provides the best opportunity for their students.

"[It's] a new and innovative way to do program," Kennedy said. "Brings support to the community normally it wouldn't have."

In order to incorporate the Head Start Program with 4K, the district had to follow standards set by Head Start. Most of the requirements they were already doing, and the ones they needed to add are a benefit to all students. As part of Head Start, students have to brush their teeth at school, so they incorporated that into the 4K classroom.

Starting this program is creating one more way for students to get more from their education.

"There's always students you wonder, did we do enough," Kennedy said. "[This is] another opportunity for us to do better for these kids."

Kennedy believes adding Head Start in Plum City will benefit students.

"Earlier you can begin finding opportunities for these students the more successful they will be growing up," Kennedy said. "If we didn't jump at the opportunity to house Head Start Program, how can we say we did the best we could for them."