Pasco County School board member Colleen Beaudoin made an impassioned plea during the board’s Sept. 14 meeting to increase the district’s early childhood learning opportunities.
She observed that she’d recently attended a Head Start meeting, and she noted that as of August, Head Start’s enrollment was 530, and Early Head Start’s enrollment was 107.
She praised the efforts of district staff in the early childhood programs but, she said, there are 299 children on the Head Start waiting list and 132 on the Early Head Start waiting list.
Beaudoin noted that the district has made great strides, overall, in expanding its programs and offerings.
“We have more students taking advanced academics, and career and technical courses, and they aren’t just taking these courses. Our students are excelling, when given this opportunity,” she said.
But Beaudoin emphasized that all district students should have these opportunities.
“This includes students who are living in poverty and students whose parents don’t know the options that are offered. This includes kids whose parents, grandparents, guardians and other caregivers are working at night and can’t sit at the kitchen table every night helping their kids,” Beaudoin said.
It includes students with disabilities, she said.
“I read somewhere once that when children are young, their intelligence can mask their disability. And when they are older, their disability can mask the intelligence. I know this is true.
“I’m including the kids with limited English proficiency.
“This is about all our kids. We cannot let these students slip through the cracks.
If the district wants to expand educational opportunities for all students, it needs to start when they are young, she said.
“We have students in this county who begin kindergarten already at a disadvantage compared to some of their peers,” Beaudoin said.
“The further a student falls behind, the harder it is for them to catch up. The gap continues to widen, if not addressed.
“It’s much easier and less costly to provide supports and interventions to 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds than it is to a high school student sitting in an algebra class, who’s lacking good number sense,” said Beaudoin.
“I know we are working on expanding early childhood programs,” she said, and she urged the district to invest more in those efforts.
“Four-hundred-and-thirty-one students on waiting lists for Head Start and Early Head Start is sad and unacceptable. We’ve got to find a way to reach these students, and that’s where I’d like us to focus our time and more of our funding,” Beaudoin said.
Published September 22, 2021