Of the Baker City Herald

The Eastern Oregon Head Start program has received a federal grant that would allow construction of a new center to expand its services to include 3-year-olds in Baker City.

The program is in the market for a 200-by-200-foot lot that would accommodate the expansion, according to Tammie McEnroe, Baker County Head Start supervisor and manager.

Head Start has outgrown its existing building, a modular classroom owned by Eastern Oregon University, which sits on property adjacent to Churchill School leased to Head Start by the Baker School District. There is no room to expand at the present site, McEnroe said.

Plans call for the program to expand its services from 34 to 52 children, McEnroe said. At the present time, just one-third of the children eligible are served by the program, she added. The goal is to serve all children who qualify for the free, family focused preschool.

Work on the project will begin in earnest this summer, according to Virginia Bertels, Eastern Oregon Head Start director. She said Baker Citys preschool population is growing faster than that of other Eastern Oregon communities.

The hope is to secure enough room to provide a large playground area for students along with two classrooms, an indoor play area, kitchen, bathrooms and meeting rooms and office space, she said.

Head Start has been at its present Baker City site for 11 years. The program has eight years remaining on its land-use agreement with the school district, Bertels said.

There are no plans to give up the existing building, which could be used to provide a third classroom in Baker City, a possible full-day, full-year program, a combination preschool/child care service or for administrative office space, she said.

The goal is to have the new building available by 2002, according to Bertels.

Because of the limited classroom space, at this time classes fill up with 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds go unserved, McEnroe said. The expanded program would add the 3-year-olds, ensuring that children and families are served for two years.

Another 15 3- and 4-year-olds are served by Head Start at Halfway.

We serve children who might not get a preschool experience otherwise, McEnroe said.

Head Start staff also visits with families and works with them to help prepare their children for school. Social skill building is an element of the instruction, as well as cognitive training.

Eligibility is determined by the childs age and special needs as well as the familys income and any risk factors.

The Baker program employs six people, including McEnroe, four teachers and a cook. Parent and community volunteers also participate.

Classes are scheduled Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. One session meets from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and a second session is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on those days.

Applications are being accepted for next years classes. More information about the expansion project or registration is available by calling 523-2696.