U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar Impressed with Head Start

Congressman Tours Longview Center for Insider Look at Preschool Program

MIDLAND, Mich. (May 8, 2017) – Congressman John Moolenaar dropped into a classroom at Midland’s Longview Early Childhood Center on Monday when he was promptly greeted by a 4 year old with a hand broom and dust pan.

Whether the silent youngster wanted to impress the school visitor with his steady housekeeping skills or was hoping to strike up a conversation was anyone’s guess. But he did impress as the towering visitor laughed and smiled with acknowledgement.

Moolenaar, who represents Michigan’s 4th Congressional District including Midland, observed students and teachers at work and play, met with administrators and talked with parents about the value Head Start has created in their lives. Joined by his local constituent services director Tom Smith, Moolenaar took part in a round-table discussion about the services and impact created at Longview, and asked pointed questions. The tour was arranged by Michigan Head Start Association Executive Director Robin J. Bozek, Longview’s Head Start Education Supervisor Vickie Rutledge and Tricia Grifka, Director, Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency (NEMCSCA), the grantee for Head Start operations there.

Policy Council members and parents Amanda Merrill and Jennifer Gooch gave personal accounts of their children’s successes. Gooch’s daughter, Elisse, 3, started Head Start with a speech delay and since then has made great strides thanks to receiving specialized therapy there. In contrast, son Emmett, a kindergartner, attended a different preschool without the same supports and today struggles with a speech delay. “I just wanted Congressman Moolenaar to know how much Head Start has helped her,” Gooch said.  “When she starts kindergarten, she’s going to be ready. I’m just so grateful.”

Both parents said they loved participating in the program and attending parent education courses, including those focused on social-emotional development in the Conscious Discipline curriculum.

Lisa Bolen, NEMCSA’s Executive Director, said it was critical for the congressman to hear parents’ stories. “They have painted a real picture of how Head Start works on the ground,” she said.

Federally funded, Head Start serves more than 35,000 children in Michigan with early childhood education as well as comprehensive services that include health, nutrition and parent involvement for families who qualify because of low income. Bolen’s agency covers a wide swath of central and northern Michigan, serving nearly 3,000 children across 21 counties including Midland.

Merrill and her son, Sebastian, were enrolled in Early Head Start before the now 4 year old became a student at Longview. Back then, Merrill said she was overcome from the grief and loss of her own mother and benefitted greatly from the support and education that her home visitor brought to her and her son. “I just want other kids to have the same support that my son and I did. And I want Head Start to continue to be funded,” she said.

Moolenaar could have some influence on that score.  As a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, he chairs subcommittees that oversee Head Start funding. Recently, there was good news out of Washington, D.C. regarding Head Start funding when Congress decided to fund an $85-million increase for cost-of-living adjustments and for Early Head Start Partnerships and Preschool Development Grants in the current fiscal year. The increase is even more impressive considering that the overall FY 2017 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill is $934 million below FY 2016.

Longview is home to three preschool classrooms – one of which operates as a “blended” Head Start and state-funded Great Start Readiness Program classroom, with two others serving 3 and 4-year-old Head Start-funded children. The special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (known as WIC) operates at Longview. Occupation and physical therapies are provided through the Mid-Michigan Health Pediatric Center there, the Midland County Health Department provides immunizations, and vision and hearing screenings at Longview, and the school is visited monthly by a mobile dentist. The Longview program was recently recognized by the Michigan Department of Education for inclusion in its Proud Michigan Educator campaign. See a video about Longview here.