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Families praise Head Start's benefits

For these Central Valley parents, the benefits received from the Head Start program are innumerable.

Francisca Valdez, a Hanford resident, Mónica DeSantiago and Karina Rosas, both from Corcoran, and Eduardo Arroyo, resident of Delhi, shared their experiences as families who at one point or another were or still are part of the Head Start program in their cities.

In Delhi, the Head Start program is operated by the Merced County Office of Education.

In Hanford and Corcoran, the program is operated by the Kings Community Action Organization of Kings County.

Valdez has four children; Enrique Valdez, 13, an eighth grade student, Jaqueline Valdez, 10, a fifth grader; Jesús Valdez, 8, a third grader, and Alejandro Valdez, 6, a kindergartener.

Her three youngest children -- Jaqueline, Jesús and Alejandro -- were enrolled in the Migrant Seasonal Head Start Program in Hanford.

"It may not seem like it, but the eldest could have really used it," said Valdez. "Something as simple as the alphabet and knowing colors that he didn't know at age 4, and the other three learned so much including the English language."

"The oldest (Enrique) didn't go to any sort of preschool education," added Valdez.

"The youngest, Alejandro, is in kindergarten but is reading like a child in first grade. He's been a very advanced reader since he started kindergarten."

Remembering her eldest son's first school years, Valdez said she did notice a big difference compared to the first school years of her three other children.

She said that with the eldest son she would have to sit down and help him with his homework and it was difficult for her son.

"I didn't know how to help him," said Valdez. "I struggled a lot with him."

With the younger children, Valdez commented that generally speaking they were able to do their homework by themselves without her having to sit down with them.

"Head Start gives a lot of support to the kids. More than anything, the kids learn a lot at a young age," Valdez said. "I'm very thankful to the program."

Valdez was also very involved in Head Start during the time that her children participated in the program. She was part of the policy council where she got to learn much about the program.

DeSantiago has three kids, Mario Garcia, 12 years old and in seventh grade, Jahir Garcia, 9, a fourth grade student, and Andrew Garcia, 5, a kindergartener. Her son Andrew participated in the Regional Head Start Preschool Program in Corcoran. Her other, older sons were in a Head Start program in Tulare County when they lived there years ago.

"My second son (Jahir) received very advanced scores when he was enrolled in kindergarten," said DeSantiago. She says the teacher commented that her son had received 174 per cent of the level.

"The older ones have done very well in their education," said DeSantiago. "Jahir is at a very advanced level of mathematics and Mario in science.

"Head Start gave them the information so they wouldn't be afraid of school goals."

She said that thanks to the program in Corcoran, her son Andrew was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old, and received the necessary support.

"They taught me how to socialize with my son," DeSantiago says. "It changes your world."

DeSantiago said that not only has the program benefitted her sons in school, but it also changed her as head of the family, teaching her about her youngest son's disability and the courage it takes to be a parent involved in their child's education.

She says she's completely sure that had her sons not been enrolled in the Head Start programs they wouldn't be doing so well in school.

Also thanks to Head Start, Andrew, her youngest, who suffers from autism has become a more social child.

"As a parent you try to teach them at home, but it's not easy when one has so many obligations," said DeSantiago, who stays involved in her children's education.

Rosas and her 2 year old son, Gregory Gonzales, is participating in the Migrant Seasonal Head Start Program in Corcoran.

Rosas said she's starting to notice the benefits of an education at an early age.

"Even my two year old son already wants to read," she says, speaking on her son's interest in books and how he uses his fingers to point at words in them.

"He stays inside the lines when he draws," she adds.

Rosas also said that thanks to the Head Start program she was able to finish her studies and have more opportunities for her and her family. Head start also offers support for couples, something that benefits children.

Arroyo has five children -- Euzcady, 10, a fifth grade student, Ariel, 9, a third grader, Gael, 7, a second grader, Uziel, 5, a kindergartener, and Ángela, 2, and enrolled in the Home-Base Head Start program.

Thanks to the program, in which Arroyo is greatly involved, there is the possibility Arroyo might have the chance to continue his own studies.

"I grew up in a family where the women had to do everything, and I wanted something different for myself, for my spouse, and for my kids," said Arroyo, who has been married to Maria for 15 years.

"It's all part of being a dad," he says on the subject of being involved in the development of his children.

Thanks to the program he has been able to spend more time with his youngest children, something he wasn't able to do with his three eldest.

Arroyo says that thanks to the fact that his son Uziel was in the head start program, he is more social and more self-assured in his academic development. He noted that when his other three children started school they weren't as developed as Uziel was.

"The program has been a big help to them, but also to us as parents and to us as a family," Arroyo said. "We're closer as a family, and as parents we get to spend more time with them."

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mortizbriones@vidaenelvalle.com

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