Children who participate in the Head Start early education program will be gaining even more of an edge on life with a new building.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new modular building to be located directly behind McVay Elementary was held Tuesday. Head Start has been operating in Williston since the ’60s. The program was running out of the McVay Elementary building but was displaced last fall when the building needed to reopen as an elementary school due to increased population.
The district was no longer able to sponsor the program, so it came under the support and leadership of CDI Head Start, the umbrella corporation of the nationwide operation. This past year the program met at New Hope Wesleyan and Concordia Lutheran churches. Then, the Parks and Rec District donated land for the program to have a building of its own.
“We were afraid we were going to have to close down,” said Pat Hagen, who has worked with the program for more than 25 years. “But we didn’t. We’re pretty excited.”
Site director Chris Beck is proud of the staff.
“They stuck together through thick and thin,” she said.
Mayor Ward Koeser and the city officials also supported the program. The Planning and Zoning Commission put Head Start on the “fast track to rezone this property,” said Beck.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for Head Start,” said Koeser. “It really does give kids a head start.”
The commission worked “as fast as possible” to help the program.
“We believe in this,” said Koeser.
The corporate Head Start office was inspired by the support of the community for the program and helped fund the building.
“Your community has impressed them greatly,” said Beck.
Beck thanked their supporters at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“We are very excited for this new school and that this program is still going,” said Sherri Ross, policy council president.
Construction will begin after their permit is processed. They hope to have the building completed by September or October.
Until a new grantee is found to oversee the program, CDI will continue to support the program with directors. Beck travels in from Michigan once or twice a month and has been doing so ever since the district was no longer able to support the program. A new interim director, Joe Okapal, will also be flying in once a month from Oklahoma for a week to give support to the program. The groundbreaking ceremony was his first day on the job.
However, directors aren’t the only people who keep this program alive and well. Bill Webb, a long-time Williston resident, reads to the children once a week. He has become like a grandpa to the children, which is special for children who are far away from grandparents.
There are 85 children ages 3-5 who participate in the program.
“The program is to prepare children for kindergarten in a developmentally appropriate way,” said Beck. Nutrition and health are also important parts of the program. As well, families are taught how to be involved in their children’s learning.
There are still openings for more children. The program is for low income families, which would include any children living in hotels or campers, since they do not have a permanent home. Also, 10 percent of program participants are allowed to be from higher income families.
For information on the program call 701-609-4003.