Dana Lincovich walks into the Carbon County Head Start's Coaldale center one recent morning, carrying 18-month-old Brody on one arm and holding 2 1/2-year-old Aiden's hand with the other, while keeping 5-year-old Jacob close by her side.
Running on a few hours' sleep (she worked until 3 a.m.), Lincovich, of Summit Hill, trundled the children in for the preschool program because she knows how important it is for their future.
Aiden will start the program in September, following in the footsteps of Jacob, who attends the program now. Lincovich's daughter, Alexia, was in Head Start two years ago.
This summer, Brody will carry on the tradition as he becomes one of the first children to be included in the new Early Head Start program.
"I see how my children have gone through Head Start, and I think it will give Brody a little more of an advantage," she said. "Head Start does a lot for my kids. They learn so much."
Head Start is a national preschool educational program for low-income children ages 3 to 5.
Early Head Start, a program designed for pregnant mothers and their children from birth to 3 years old, will begin in Carbon County in July.
"Research is telling us that the earlier we start, really with the pregnant mom, the better success we have in providing all the comprehensive services," said Bernetta Frantz, director of Children and Family Development Services for Pathstone, which administers the Head Start program in Carbon County.
Early Head Start will help parents obtain medical and dental services, mental health, family support services, education and, for those at risk, disability service support with early intervention. All of the children will be given developmental, vision and hearing screenings.
The program will also monitor immunizations, well-baby visits and help families find health insurance and, if necessary, provide transportation to doctor visits.
There is no charge for the program, open to parents who fall within the economic guidelines which range from $14,570 for a two-person family, $22,050 for a four-person family, to $37,010 for a family of eight.
Parents can register now by calling BillieJo Swartz at (570) 645-7578 (the Coaldale center) or Viki DeMarco at (610) 377-5671 (the Lehighton center).
The program has home-based and center-based options, depending on whether or not the parent is working. The center-based option is for a working parent; the home-based option is for pregnant and unemployed parents.
"If someone loses their job, as soon as we have a home-based opening, they will get into the home-based program," Frantz said. Conversely, if a parent has a child in the home-based option and gets a job, the child would move to the center-based option.
The program has 72 "slots" for pregnant women and children. Of that number, 56 will receive the program in their homes. The remaining 16 slots, for infants and toddlers, will be divided between Head Start centers in Lehighton and Coaldale. The Lehighton center will serve people in the Jim Thorpe, Lehighton and Palmerton school districts. The Coaldale center will serve those living in the Panther Valley and Weatherly school districts.
The center will provide 10 hours of service daily, but those hours have yet to be determined and will depend on the needs of the parents.
"It's based on the parents' working hours," Frantz said. "They will need to drop their children off and pick them up after they are finished work," she said.
In the home-based option, pregnant women will receive prenatal education, resource and referral help in getting prenatal care, including dental and medical.
The same services will be provided to those children in the home-based option as in the center-based. A nurse will provide a home visit two weeks after the baby is born to help the mother with any postpregnancy needs. The newborn will be enrolled in Early Head Start as soon as an opening occurs. Pregnant women and children in the in-home program will receive a weekly home visit and two socialization events each month.
The program empowers parents to be their children's first teachers through the Parents As Teachers curriculum.
"The parent is the primary educator of their child," Frantz said. Head Start workers will work as a team with the parents who welcome them into their homes, she said.
Another perk of the program is that Head Start will provide storybooks to the children through the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) program.
"Every child enrolled will receive three books a year for their home libraries," Frantz said.
The program also will serve homeless families.
"In the home-based option, we follow the family," Frantz said. So even though a homeless family may move from place to place in the county, they will be able to rely on Early Head Start to stay with them.
The program is funded by federal economic stimulus money through Sept. 29, 2011, Frantz said.