A recent report from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute found children who were enrolled in NC Pre-K made significant gains in student performance when compared to children who were not participants. The increases were evident in language, math, literacy, general knowledge and social skills. There were 27,179 children enrolled in NC Pre-K this year, but another 5,000 are on a waiting list. In Jackson and Haywood counties, the nonprofit Mountain Projects offers pre-K, Early Head Start and Head Start. The Herald asked Head Start and Early Head Start Director Joy Wallace to talk about what is offered.

Q: Can you describe your programs?

A: In Early Head Start, we serve 48 children. In Head Start, we serve 167 children. And in three of our Head Start classes, we have 4-year-olds who are also served by the NC Pre-K program. Two of these classes are located in Haywood County at our Edwina G. Hall Head Start center in Clyde and Waynesville Head Start. This year, we are adding an NC Pre-K class at Kneedler Child Development Center on the campus of Western Carolina University. At this time, we have 23 NC Pre-K slots, which are distributed between these three centers.

Q: What is the difference between Early Head Start, Head Start and pre-K?

A: Early Head Start serves families with children ages birth through 3 and low-income pregnant women. It was created by the 1994 Head Start Reauthorization Act and receives federal funds. Early Head Start is a comprehensive preschool program designed to meet children’s emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs.

Head Start is also federally funded and serves as a comprehensive preschool for 3-5-year-olds and their families.

Pre-K is state funded. It prepares children academically for school entry, and is offered to any 4-year-old child, regardless of income or need.

Q: Do you see children in your program making gains? Do you track this in some way?

A: We do. All Mountain Projects Head Start and Early Head Start children, including those who are also enrolled in NC Pre-K, are assessed three times per year. These are used by teachers as they plan their lessons, and to help show how much children grow in each area throughout the year. The results are tracked from year to year to help see the growth of the program as a whole, as well as the growth of individual children over time.

Q: How many non-English speakers do you serve? How critical is pre-K for this group?

A: During the 2016-17 school year, about 22 percent of our total Head Start and Early Head Start enrollment has included non-English speakers. Of those enrolled in NC Pre-K, approximately 31 percent of the children were non-English speaking. It is extremely important for these non-English speaking children to attend quality preschool programs that will help them develop early literacy skills, such as vocabulary development and letter recognition.

Q: Do your teachers hold special licenses in birth-through-kindergarten training? What other training do they get?

A: Our teachers of NC Pre-K classes must have a four-year degree in Early Childhood Education and hold a North Carolina teaching license in birth to kindergarten. The teacher assistants in NC Pre-K classes are required to hold an early childhood credential or a two-year degree. All of our Head Start teachers also hold associates or bachelor’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, and teacher assistants hold an early childhood credential or a two-year degree. All of our staff members receive annual training as required by N.C. daycare and Head Start regulations, as well as specific training that might be needed through the year.

Q: How do parents apply for pre-K, Early Head Start or Head Start?

A: Call Mountain Projects in Sylva at 586-2345 to make an appointment.