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Head Start receives an increase in funding


There will be more students and higher salaries for Baltimore's Head Start staff thanks to $8.6 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-7th, announced the funding yesterday at a news conference at the Union Baptist Head Start in West Baltimore, where 220 children are enrolled.

"Head Start is so important," Cummings said, as 10 children busied themselves with Play Doh, counting and working on computers. "I've lived in this neighborhood. I've seen a number of children, and I've seen a number of them do well, but I've also seen some of them not do well."

Cummings said Head Start helps deter children from getting into crime, drugs and other dangerous behaviors.

Statistics show that children who attend Head Start are less likely to become teen-age mothers or go to jail and are able to read by the time they complete third grade, Cummings said.

The city's Head Start program received $6,621,323, and its Early Head Start program received $2,030,723. Of the $600 million distributed nationally, Head Start in Maryland received more than $62 million, a 5 percent increase over last year, said Michael Kharfen, an HHS spokesman.

Baltimore received a significant amount because of the high caliber of its Head Start program, said Patricia Montoya, commissioner of the Children, Youth and Families division of HHS. Also at the announcement were Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, Democrats of Maryland.

Citywide, about 3,100 children are enrolled in Head Start and 184 in Early Head Start. About half of the children attend classes in public schools, while the others are taught in places such as churches. An Early Head Start program operates at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said Carlethea Johnson, Baltimore Head Start coordinator.

Statewide, the funding will permit about 395 more children into the pre-school and early programs, beyond the 9,600 children enrolled, Kharfen said.

Johnson said an additional 221 children will take part in city programs. The funding also will allow raises for teachers, whose salaries begin around $32,000 for those with a bachelor's degree.

"Our problem in retaining teachers with degrees is [that] the public schools pay about $2,000 to $3,000 more, and they have shorter hours and better benefits," Johnson said.

Doreen Omisore, lead teacher at Union Baptist Head Start, was pleased to learn about the pay increase.

Ani Byrnes, Armani Graves and Olivia Connor are Omisore's pupils. As Cummings and others spoke, the girls sat at a table counting with Dr. Doris Welcher, a mental health consultant who has worked with Union Baptist Head Start for 10 years.

"I like school because I like to play and read a book," Ani said. "School is fun."

Armani drew a picture. When asked about the letter in one corner of it, she proudly remarked that she had given herself an "A" for the drawing.

"It's about self-esteem," Cummings said. "With many children in our neighborhood, unfortunately, some parents are not there for them. Head Start teaches parents to be parents and gives the children guidance and nourishment."

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