Column: Council to decide fate of E.M. Henry Head Start

Published 2:38 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Columnist

The Clanton City Council will meet on March 25 at 5 p.m. at Clanton City Hall to discuss the future of Head Start in Chilton County. The meeting was scheduled after Head Start, which meets at the E.M. Henry Park in Clanton, was contacted by the City of Clanton informing them that their five-year lease is ending, and the lease amount will change from $1,000 per month to $4,000 per month and utilities. The E.M. Henry Head Start program is currently the only Head Start program in Clanton.

“This is all we have for the children that live near the Clanton Housing Authority,” Jacklyn Baker-Christian, Head Start Policy Council Representative, said. “I am an Early Childhood Education major and know the importance of Head Start programs. The majority of minorities are not meeting grade-level reading, which is taught in this program. The E.M. Henry Park is slowly being closed to the community. The pool has been filled in with dirt, the senior citizen building has a chain around the door. These are important resources for the community.”

Baker serves as an advocate for parents within the Head Start community and updates parents of activities and monthly news. She currently has several petitions circulating throughout the community in support of keeping the E.M. Henry Head Start at its current location.

“Parents within the community can currently walk their children to school, which is an important benefit for households without a car,” said Baker. “They gave us notice that if we cannot pay $4,000 a month that we will have to close by July or move.”

The E.M. Henry Head Start program is operated and organized by Family Guidance of Montgomery and has been since 2020, but has served Chilton County for 30 years.

“We have spoken to Clanton’s Mayor and understand their desire to increase the lease,” Debbie Pinnock, Interim Program Director for Head Start at Family Guidance in Montgomery, said. “We do not want to close the Head Start Program for Clanton residents. It offers much more than a day care center. It provides family counseling, early childhood development and soft skills for at-risk communities. We teach children to read and have learning centers they can play in. Research shows that a child who has been in a Head Start program is much more successful at school in their first two years than those that attend a regular day care center.”

If the City of Clanton does not decrease the amount of their lease, the only other option for Head Start to stay in Clanton is to find a new location and be reconstructed to fit the state-mandated specifics required for childcare, which may or may not be located in an at-risk neighborhood.

E.M. Henry Head Start currently serves twenty-six low income families and employs seven individuals.

For information on signing the Keep Head Start petition, contact Jacklyn Baker-Christian at 334-657-8240. All Clanton residents are welcome to attend the public council meeting on March 25.