Fort Valley Head Start approved for $5.6M grant

Middle Georgia’s rural families will get more options for child care, thanks to a grant just made official.

Fort Valley State University’s Head Start program, which partners with providers in Dooly, Crawford, Pulaski, Telfair, Peach and Macon counties, will receive $5.6 million to set up an Early Head Start program for younger children.

“We’re now able to better serve children ages 0 to 3 ... and also partner with other child care providers,” said Evelyn Byrd, the Fort Valley program’s director.

The normal Head Start program serves children ages 3 and 4, meaning that the Fort Valley State network will now be able to provide service for children from birth until they’re eligible for public school options.

The size of the grant, which got preliminary approval in December, is the largest in Georgia and seventh largest in the nation. It ranked ahead of grants to programs in larger cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami. Nationwide, more than 200 programs received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But that isn’t near as important as the opportunities the grant will provide, Byrd said.

“We looked at it as being able to serve the maximum amount of children,” she said.

The grant was based in part on need -- the number of children that child care providers serve in those areas -- as well as income levels in the area. Head Start programs are free to families, depending on their income.

The Early Head Start programs will provide a variety of services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families. Besides “age-appropriate” developmental learning opportunities for children in the program, Early Head Start could also offer medical screenings and parenting skills seminars.

The funding also could be used to help teachers gain certification for early childhood education.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.