Nowadays youngsters should know their ABC’s and be able to count before they enter kindergarten. Thankfully there is a Head Start program for 3- to 5-year-olds to go to, for families who cannot afford daycare.

“The children are thankful and the parents are thankful. We provide free breakfast and lunch, transportation and learning tools they would otherwise not have access to,” said program director Jessica Delgado.

“Every child should have the opportunity to learn,” teacher Leah Sacksteder added.

There are 180 students in the Keys-wide program that meet at Gerald Adams, HOB, Stanley Switlik, and Key Largo schools. Families must qualify to have their children in the federally funded program. Once they do, they have the opportunity to get their GEDs, work or get a break for a few hours out of the day.

“My girls are learning more than they would be in daycare. They are not just being watched … they are coming home showing me new things they have learned,” said Breanna Escobio, mother of Taliyah, 3, and Anaiya, 4.

Just last year the organization was able to purchase a SMART Table as a new learning tool. The SMART Table engages early learners, including students with special needs, in active discussions, problem-solving and small group collaboration activities. When the young minds are not playing learning games on it, the teacher can switch the table to color mode.

“My favorite part of school is coloring. Today we learned red and blue make green, I mean purple,” said Emmy Soca, 3.

The program benefits not only the students, but in some cases the entire family. The students are learning verbal skills they can bring home to mom and dad. It is also a social outlet.

“It is fun going on the playground,” said Tristen Alfonso. “I made new friends.”

His father Tommy Alfonso said he was initially a little anxious. Now the dad feels confident about his son’s coming success in kindergarten.

“I am used to the separation and I know he won’t be behind,” said Tommy. “I am really grateful for the program.”

To learn more about enrolling in the program, email Delgado at [email protected].

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