University's Early Head Start Program top 10 in the country

Named “Center of Excellence”; to serve as model for other nearly 1,600 programs in the country

10/17/2011 - By: Claudene Wharton
Early Head Start Food Exploration Infants and toddlers in the University's Early Head Start Program engage in food exploration activities.

In its 12 short years of existence, not only has the Early Head Start Program at University of Nevada, Reno gone from serving 64 infants and toddlers each year to serving 180, it has also risen to be one of the top programs in the country.

Out of 1,591 Head Start and Early Head Start programs nationwide, the Office of Head Start in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families has named the University of Nevada, Reno Early Head Start Program one of this year's 10 "Centers of Excellence."

The program was nominated for the honor by former Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, and chosen for its exemplary services, positive outcomes and collaboration to deliver comprehensive services.

"We work closely with our families and other organizations to first make sure that the children are healthy and getting any additional assistance they may need," said Sherry Waugh, director of the College of Education's Child and Family Research Center, of which the program is a part. "Children who are hungry or sick are not going to be in a state to learn and develop appropriately."

Waugh said that the zero- to 3-year-olds enrolled in the program receive two-thirds of their nutritional daily needs while at the program. A health coordinator for the program, who is a registered nurse, makes sure the children stay current on their immunizations and helps network with other community resources to address other health issues as needed.

Many of the children enrolled in the program have special needs or would otherwise lack quality care and development opportunities. Waugh and the program's coordinator, Jane Hogue, have collaborated with other organizations to bring the program to some of the most underserved in the community. The program is now held on-site at several northern Nevada locations, including Nevada Early Intervention Services, Reno Housing Authority complexes and the University's Nelson Building in downtown Reno. The program is also offered at Wooster, Hug and Washoe High Schools, and brought to 44 children and/or pregnant young women in their homes.

All of the funding for the program is federal, as either competitive or pass-through grants to the state. The program is always fully enrolled for the number of children it is funded for, which currently is 180. Hogue keeps a waiting list to fill any vacancies that may occur and currently has about 100 students on that list.

"The program is so popular and so successful because we use established best-practices to achieve the highest possible outcomes for the children and the families," said Hogue. "Teacher training is an integral and ongoing part of the program."

Being part of the College of Education's Child and Family Research Center at the University, the program employs methods and research from around the world. In addition, the center supports the research of University faculty and graduate students, which is shared with other early childhood development providers. Students across disciplines in the University, including early childhood education, nursing, social work and nutrition, have the opportunity to learn about children and families from diverse backgrounds as they carry out activities in the Early Head Start Program classrooms. The program also provides ongoing training and educational opportunities for other early childhood development providers in the community.

"We are really here to be a resource for our community, with the overall goal of raising the quality of care for our community's youngest and most vulnerable children," Waugh said. "Being selected as one of the 10 Centers for Excellence in the country this year is extremely rewarding, as it validates that we are indeed achieving our mission."


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