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Howard Co. still seeking site for Long Reach Head Start program

Four-year-old Hylah Haynes had an hourlong car ride each day this past school year to get to her Head Start program in Ellicott City. Franora Gray said the ride was worth it.

"The program has so much," Gray said, noting that her daughter has received instruction in Spanish before even starting school.

Gray spoke before County Executive Ken Ulman, Councilwoman Courtney Watson of Ellicott City and members of the county's General Assembly delegation at an event last month held by the faith-based group People Acting Together in Howard, or PATH, urging them to allocate money to move two Head Start classrooms from Ellicott City to Columbia's Long Reach village.

On Thursday, the County Council voted 4-1 to approve Ulman's $898.8 million budget, which included $80,000 for the new site for Head Start, which has not been selected.

"We are exploring different options at this point," said Bita Dayhoff, president of the Community Action Council, in an email. The council oversees the preschool program in Howard.

Having a program nearby would make it easier on the toddlers and encourage more parents to become involved because they would not have to travel as far, Gray said.

The Head Start program is listed on the council's agenda for the quarterly meeting with the Board of Education this month.

"We're discussing Head Start, as well as a number of other programs that have to do with child care — pre-kindergarten services," said Ken Roey, director of facilities, planning and management for the school system.

Meanwhile, plans have been put on hold to renovate Head Start classrooms and offices at the Harriet Tubman High School building behind Atholton High School in Hickory Ridge village, where high school students gain experience in child care and childhood development.

The County Council approved funding for renovating the high school in March, which was to include improvements to the Head Start facility, but "we've seen construction prices escalate," Roey said.

The county has three Head Start locations: the Rockland Arts Center in Ellicott City, the Dasher Green center in Columbia and the program at Atholton.

"We should work together for ways that we can provide better resources," Roey said. But he noted that it can be tricky, given the different sources of funding involved.

About 700 children in the county are eligible for Head Start, according to figures in an Association of Community Services report released last fall. But the report says that for the past seven years, funding has been available for only 264 slots.

The enrollment is regulated by the federal government, said Linda Behsudi, director of Head Start in Howard.

"I was lucky," said Gray, who moved to Columbia last year. "I went in early."

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