Sprawled flat on the linoleum floor, Renee Foote looked up at 36 startled faces and had to grin. She could tell the kids were hooked.
By clowning around with the group of 3- and 4-year-olds, Foote also won over some skeptical parents. Many mothers who were a little wary about Head Start relaxed when they saw Foote plop down with their children to watch a video about the federally supported preschool program.
Head Start is designed to give children from low-income homes a better chance in school by providing early instruction, medical and dental screenings, family counseling and social outings.
"They saw we were all right when we got down with them in our pretty dresses andall," said Foote, the director of Anne Arundel's Head Start program."We weren't just role models -- we were there with them."
Foote emphasized that spirit of cooperation when she met with the parents ofPumphrey's first Head Start class at the Lloyd Keaser Community Center two weeks ago.
With or without a school, Foote was determined to give Brooklyn Park children a head start on their education. She decided to move ahead with a home tutoring program until civic leaders renovate the run-down community center off Belle Grove Road.
Pumphrey's civic association plans to refurbish the old building to house Head Start classes for 67 preschool children; it may also establish an adult day-care program.
Although community leaders initially hoped to finish renovations by September, financial and structural snarls have delayed the work. The civic group must wait until July to learn whether the county will grant its request for another $300,000 Community Development Block grant. Meanwhile, the association needs the results of a routine asbestos and lead inspection to begin repairs.
Nothing was going to stop Foote, though. With remarkable speed, she hired two teachers and three family service workers, who helped organize the home-based program for 36 children. The teachers have alreadycompleted assessments and developed instructional plans, with help from the parents, Foote said.
Children from Brooklyn Park, Linthicum and Glen Burnie rarely had a chance to participate in Head Start since the closest classes are in Freetown, a public housing project in Pasadena. When the county's program received $111,152 in federal grants to expand, Head Start officials decided to target the "long-neglected North County area," Foote said.
Last week, teachers went over the basics with children and parents, discussing everything from learning the alphabet to nutrition.
"What research has found is that the little ones of low-income brackets were delayed and having difficulty competing with their peers once they got to school," Foote said.
The majority of children enrolled in Head Start come from single-parent homes, she said. Some of the parents never graduated from highschool and need tutoring themselves. Others lost their jobs and are depressed and angry. Head Start teachers and counselors work closely with the parents, especially in the home-based tutoring program, to overcome those problems, Foote said.
"We do a lot of one-on-one things," she said, explaining how the tutoring program differs from typical Head Start classes. "When we go out into the homes, we try to show the moms they're already teaching things, even if they're just sorting clothes."
Foote plans to enroll another 31 children, bringing the class to 67, by the time the Keaser Center is renovated. Community leaders hope to finish the project by February, she said.
The county already has three other programs -- two in Annapolis and a thirdin Freetown.
Head Start plans to expand into the South County once the Pumphrey program is up and running.