WESTMINSTER - In a move that might seem elementary in its simplicity, Carroll officials have combined state and federal early education programs this year. The result is pre-kindergarten classes that have filled up like seats at a New Kids on the Block concert."We have a long waiting list," said Patricia R. Amass, Carroll's coordinator of compensatory programs. "We have almost as many children on the waiting list as we have enrolled in the classes. People are already signing up for next year."
Typically, school districts separate the programs -- the federally financed Head Start Program, aimed at preparing children from low-income families for school, and Maryland's Extended Elementary Education Program.
This is the first year Carroll has participated in the state program.
Amass said the district received $60,000 in state money for EEEP, which has similar goals as Head Start but does not specifically target low-income children.
"We were asked to develop a program for collaboration between the two programs," Amass said."Putting the programs together is what's best for the children."
Thirty-four pupils have enrolled in the Head Start Program and 40 have enrolled in EEEP, she said. Classes meet for three hours Mondays through Fridays in portable units at Elmer A. Wolfe and Taneytown elementary schools.
Basically, the curriculum for both programs is the same -- to provide the 4-year-olds with social experience, language development and preparation for success in school.
Outside the classroom, the only difference between the programs is that the families of Head Start children receive help in setting goals and obtaining assistance from social service agencies.
But, Amass noted, "There is absolutely no difference in the classroom."
The pre-kindergarten class is free. However, those who not qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches must pay a nominal fee for the meals, she said.
The four classes, each taught by a teacher and an aide, emphasize self-help skills. Children, for instance, take turns setting tables for lunch, and activity that nurtures independence and pre-math skills.
"The most important thing we want to teach them is to have a good self-concept," said Denise Hobby, who teaches one of the classes at Taneytown Elementary School. "If you feel good about yourself, you can pretty much do anything in life."
Hobby, a Hanover resident who has taught elementary students for 16 years, said she particularly likes the communication between parents and teacher.
"I think the chance to communicate with parents is one of the big assets in the program," she said. "I've already met every parent. In a regular classroom, that wouldn't have happened by now."
Meeting parents on an individual basis also allowed time for children to explore the classroom without other students around, she said.
"The feedback from parents has been that they can't believe how independent their children are becoming," Amass said.