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Three-year-olds at college

Early childhood education instructors Rondi Wussow (left) and Joni Jacobson (center) have been working with Head Start supervisor Jim Haugen (right) to create a Head Start program for 3 to 5-year-olds at the Alexandria Technical and Community College. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)

College students won't be the only students on campus at Alexandria Technical and Community College when classes resume this fall.

That's because starting in September children ages 3 to 5 will also be on campus as part of the college's collaboration with West Central Minnesota Communities Action Head Start.

The need for the new space was due to recent Head Start federal mandates to provide families with extended day service. The half-day services are based out of the Early Childhood Education Center at Woodland Elementary School, but there wasn't enough space to also add classrooms for full days.

"It really came out of a space issue and trying to identify opportunities in the search for new facilities," said Jim Haugen, Head Start supervisor. "I approached the administration here (at ATCC) and planted a seed...It just kind of blossomed."

Though the administration and early childhood education instructors were on board with the idea, the first obstacle was finding space at the college to create the two classrooms, each of which will have 16 students. Ultimately Head Start was able to renovate part of the nursing program's old lab space.

"It created this nice domino effect where nursing is getting a new lab, health and fitness is getting some new classrooms and we'll have two (Head Start) classrooms with a bathroom," said Rondi Wussow, one of the early childhood education instructors. "The timing just was beautiful."

The classrooms and bathroom are currently being renovated and a space outside is being prepared to install a playground. There will be a separate entrance to Head Start rooms so that parents do not need to walk through the college to get to the classrooms.

Head Start has no cost for families who qualify.

"Our goal is to build families into self-sufficiency, while realizing that there are times in life where you just need a little help," Haugen said.

In addition to benefitting the community, early childhood education instructor Joni Jacobson says the partnership will be helpful for college students who may use the services.

"When I think about the college students that I advise, oftentimes a barrier for them for school is that they may have a child," she said. "Helping them to have access to good, quality service for their child opens up an opportunity for them to then do their own personal development and focus on their own education."

The collaboration will also benefit students from a variety of programs in terms of learning purposes.

"Even the students that don't have children will have access to children on campus, so in our early childhood education program, they have an opportunity to do their labs and practical experiences on campus," Jacobson said.

Other programs that may also interact with the children include nursing, health and fitness, human services practitioner and speech language pathology assistant.

Beside focusing on children, Head Start programs help families with parenting or other concerns. Likewise, the college offers support for students in a plethora of ways, including counseling.

"Students could be walking between their (Head Start's) support and our support here," Jacobson said. "I just keep picturing this beautiful freeway of access to service that is meant to help children, but really is a focus on our students, too."

Work on the classrooms will continue through the summer months. Wussow says she and others at the college are looking forward to the fall already.

"I think the campus is just excited about children on site," Wussow said. "I've heard from colleagues and coworkers that it's going to be nice to have children in the halls and hear those young voices. Kids are the future and I think everyone recognizes that."

For more information or to see if your family qualifies for Head Start, call the Alexandria office at (320) 762-8046.

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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