Editor's Note: This story was written in response to a reader question submitted through our Open Source forum.
ASHLAND -- Ashland’s second Head Start Center has been established for over a year now, and although the pandemic brought on early changes to the program, Ashland West is back to offering fully in-person free preschool to low-income and foster families.
Last month, an Ashland Source reader used Open Source to ask: “Ashland West Head Start Center opened recently serving Ashland low-income and foster families with free preschool. Perhaps a story on our new program highlighting our services and building?”
Ashland West officially moved into its current residence in January 2020. The building at 1797 Seddon Court was purchased and renovations were completed.
The new location was chosen to appeal to a wider range of the Ashland community, and to allow for more children to attend classes without having to be bussed out of town.
“This year during the pandemic, there’s been a lot of COVID job change and loss,” Denise Swartz said. “So people are in new economic situations that they’ve never been in, and some people have never had to take a free social services program, so they don’t even know we exist.
"We want people to know that we are here to help.”
Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families.
At Ashland West, children can attend either a full-day class that runs from 8 a.m. to 1:55 p.m. or a half-day class that runs from either 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. or noon to 3:30 p.m.
Students will receive meals and snacks throughout the day, depending on their class length.
During the day, students will participate in different activities, including educational lessons, motor-skills activities, individualized learning and free choice, where students can move about the classroom and explore different “learning centers.”
“The goal here in Head Start is that children are going to leave the program in a better situation than they were before,” Denise Swartz said.
Swartz stressed that while the program is primarily for students to learn and grow, it also serves to support families with assistance, resources and community building opportunities.
Ashland West provides free health, dental, vision, hearing and developmental screenings for students.
Various get-togethers and activities are held periodically throughout the year, including fall festivities such as hayrides and pumpkin painting, Christmas cookie decorating and visits from Santa during the holiday season, and other events.
“We’ll often have different craft activities, and that just gives us a way to get the parents involved with their children and the families intermixing,” Gina Prendergast said. “It’s great for building relationships and having families make connections.”
Children must be at least 3 years old to be enrolled in the program, and can be registered at any point throughout the school year.
Families interested in applying for the program can apply at www.knohoco.org, visit the Kno Ho Co Ashland CAC Head Start Facebook page and click on “sign up,” or call 330-377-4567 to complete an application over the phone.