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Davis Journal

Davis District preschool gives families a ‘head start’

Aug 01, 2022 09:16AM ● By Becky Ginos

KAYSVILLE—The pandemic hit everyone hard, but in spite of that many child care workers continued to provide for the little ones and their families, sometimes putting themselves at risk. The Davis School District Head Start program was one that provided services throughout the pandemic and was recognized as Best of State in 2021 as the best public preschool in Utah. 

“We have a comprehensive service for children from birth to age 5 and their parents,” said Teresa Oster, Director of the Head Start/Early Head Start program. “Early on when things were not clear there was a lot of fear that they’d be kicked out of their home. A lot of them worked in the service industry that had shut down. They had no paid time off or benefits. We worked closely with the food pantry, the Davis Education Foundation and the Davis County Health Department to make sure families wouldn’t lose their houses and had enough food.”

At the beginning of the pandemic Early Head Start provided childcare from birth to age 3 to first responders at no cost, she said. “We took care of the young ones and the after school program took care of the older ones.”

Oster said they followed the district protocol guidelines to remain open. “A couple of times we had to close the classrooms but it wasn’t because of COVID. We had a teacher shortage because some had to quarantine for several days, but that was very few times.”

They continued to pay employees and contacted families to see what their needs were, she said. “Family service workers met with them and teachers worked with kids online through virtual classes. We got a grant to get technology to every child so they could have a laptop at home. The staff took packets of learning materials to their home. The staff continued to work even when we were closed down.”

When the district returned to class they opened back up too, said Oster. “We saw a higher than normal turnover rate. We continue to see that.”

In exit interviews there were the typical reasons, she said. “They’re moving or had a baby and want to stay home. During the pandemic teachers wanted to be home with their own children and some were fearful of getting it. They were feeling anxious around the whole thing. We had more than normal leave but were fully staffed. We did a good job filling positions. When others didn’t have enough staff we were able to keep our classrooms open.”

Part of the current turnover is pay, said Oster. “In the district they are classified positions. Our teachers have degrees but they’re not certified teachers. The district gave a generous package to classified workers for this year. That will help bring people in so we’re happy about that.” 

They also tracked child outcomes and how they were doing during the pandemic, Oster said. “We saw the numbers stay pretty steady so we’re confident about that.”

Oster said they worked closely with Lorna Koci and the Pantry Smiles program. “Our goal is for children to receive the dental care they need so when they’re going into kindergarten they’re not in pain. Her work was very critical. Many dentists’ offices closed down and she worked with us.”

Head Start recently received a grant from Select Health for dental costs for adults, she said. “Our health manager Karen Martin felt strongly that dental health care is an important part of life not just for the children but also for parents. The Select Health grant allowed us to provide for our kids’ parents.”

They also got a large grant through IHC to create a training model to become a trauma informed agency, said Oster. “We were lucky enough to go to training in Los Angeles, especially our head start staff. The people we work with have a higher level of anxiety and depression so we’re training our staff to respond to those in crisis. We realize some of our staff members may have had trauma and are healing themselves. They might be responsive to this process as well.” λ