LA GRANDE — Eastern Oregon University Head Start is entering 2021 buoyed by good news.
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief stimulus package President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, included $250 million for Head Start, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program that provides early preschool education plus nutrition and family services for children through age 5.
The amount of this funding EOU Head Start will receive is not known, but it has been determined what the funding will be spent on, said Robert Kleng, the director of EOU Head Start, which has centers in La Grande, Elgin, Union and Baker City.
“It will help us cover the added expenses we have because of COVID-19,” Kleng said.
These include the cost of purchasing additional computer equipment to help EOU Head Start continue providing online instruction during the pandemic.
Head Start also received a boost last spring from the CARES Act. That stimulus package provided $750 million to Head Start, and $92,000 of that went to the EOU program, which used much of the funds to purchase computer equipment to provide online instruction to students.
EOU Head Start began providing online instruction last spring because of state COVID-19 mandates. The program now provides a combination of online and in-person instruction to children at its Elgin, Union and Baker City centers and online instruction only to children in the La Grande School District.
The reason for the differences is EOU Head Start’s centers must follow what school districts do in terms of schedules and offering online and onsite instruction. The Union, Elgin and Baker school districts are able to offer in-person instruction, allowing EOU Head Start in those communities to do the same.
The La Grande School District is not currently offering online instruction. It’s larger population means different state metrics apply to it, but it will begin providing in-person instruction for students up through sixth grade below starting Jan. 11. Kleng said he and his staff celebrated this news.
“We are thrilled,” Kleng said.
He said it has been hard for his staff to teach children remotely. Kleng added it is particularly critical to teach preschool children in person because 90% of brain development occurs by age 5. To take full of advantage of this growth, he said, it is critical to provide in-person instruction.
“Children learn by socially interacting with another person,” Kleng said.
Kleng said the stimulus bill, which will provide $600 to most Americans and extend unemployment benefits for those hurt by COVID-19, will help EOU Head Start students in more ways than just what will be given to the education program directly. He explained children will benefit because their parents, many of whom are struggling financially due to the pandemic, will be able to devote more time to helping educate their children since they will be under less economic stress.
“It is hard to imagine how much federal funding helps a family which is struggling financially,” Kleng said.
Putting parents in a position to spend more time educating their children is vital, the EOU Head Start director said.
“Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children,” Kleng said.