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Lower Columbia College Head Start will double the number of free, full-time preschool classes available for eligible families starting in August, creating more opportunity for children of low-income families to learn and become adjusted socially.

Program officials are converting three part-day classrooms into full-day classrooms, according to a LCC Head Start news release. Though the conversion doesn’t add any more spots to the preschool, it will increase the availability for full-day programs, which are highly popular among parents, said Head Start Director Mindy Leasure.

With the conversion, six of the 11 Head Start preschool classes will be full-time programs that run for five days a week, six hours a day, Leasure said.

Paul Youmans, LCC Head Start spokesman, said full-day classes are a “very valuable childcare option” for parents who are going to school, working or training for jobs.

“Plus, the longer the child is in the classroom, the more opportunities they have to learn, to socialize and to really adjust to being healthy young children. Our goal is to have children kindergarten-ready, and this is one way we can do a better job of that,” Youmans said.

Two of the new full-day classrooms are located in Kelso at a new Head Start building next to Barnes Elementary School. The third will be on the LCC campus.

The conversion adds 51 full-time seats to the local program, which already has 51 full-time spots available, Leasure said. LCC Head Start currently serves 235 students total, so just about half of those students will be able to attend class full-time in August.

Head Start is a federally funded program that offers free preschool classes and support services to low-income families. The program also serves children who are homeless or in foster care, children with special needs and children whose families receive funding through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

The federal Head Start group has set a national goal to convert all classrooms to full-day programs by fall of 2021, Leasure said.

“We are on our way to meeting that goal,” she said.

LCC Head Start received almost $384,000 more in federal funding this year to make their three-classroom expansion possible, Leasure said. That revenue boost is expected to be permanent “unless the government were to make a big, (unexpected) change,” Youmans said.

LCC Head Start will also continue to offer part-day classes, which meet three to four days a week for three and a half hours a day. There are five part-time classrooms currently available, Leasure said.

LCC also oversees the state-funded version of Head Start, which is called the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program or ECEAP. Together, those programs have 28 classrooms and serve more than 400 families.

Enrollment for 2019-20 Head Start/ECEAP classes, which runs September through June, is open. Children must be three years old before September 1 to attend classes.

Although the enrollment period remains open year-round, Head Start/ECEAP officials encourage families to apply soon because the full-day classes fill quickly.

“What we’ve experienced before with the earlier classrooms that were full-day is that they were very popular and people wanted those,” Youmans said. “Parents are anxious to have that option.”

Head Start/ECEAP applications are available online at lowercolumbia.edu/head-start or by calling the office at 360-442-2800.

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