KAILUA-KONA » An Oahu-based nonprofit has taken over the Big Island operations of Head Start, the federally funded early-childhood education program for low-income children.
The Office of Head Start awarded Parents and Children Together, or PACT, a $2.8 million, three-year contract in September.
Ben Naki, PACT Early Head Start/Head Start program director, said there are no immediate plans to expand or make any changes, but his organization will look at where the need is and then determine where services should be expanded.
Big Island Head Start facilities are full, and there is a waiting list. Parents are encouraged to sign up in case space opens.
Students are not selected on a first-come, first-served basis, but rather based upon the needs of the island’s residents, Naki told West Hawaii Today.
"The selection criteria is based on serving the neediest of the needy," he said.
Head Start educates low-income preschool children ages 3 to 5.
The Big Island has 11 Head Start centers serving 376 children. Three are in West Hawaii, three are in Hilo and five are in the Puna district.
Naki said Head Start differs from other preschools in its focus on health. Center employees work with parents to ensure students have their vaccinations and that they are going to the dentist and doctor when needed, he added.
"We’re really looking at the whole child," he said. "We’re making sure children are socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten, so they can get a little jump-start."
For the past year, the Big Island’s Head Start program was overseen by the Community Development Institute. But the organization was only serving on an interim basis until a permanent contractor could be found.