Thursday, November 1, 2007
ICS celebrates 40th
By SUE WATSON
October is Head Start Month. This year all centers across the nation celebrated the 40th anniversary of the early childhood education program, including the center in Holly Springs, with a balloon launch.
Begun in 1966 under the “War on Poverty” program established by the late president Lyndon Baines Johnson, Head Start has now come of age as an essential part of the national education of youth - particularly the economically and socially disadvantaged. It is a comprehensive community-based program that addresses the needs of the total child. Head Start’s mission is to address the health, education, welfare, medical, dental, nutritional and social services of children and their families which includes parental involvement.
Over the years, parents have become active decision makers and were trained, educated, volunteered or became employees of ICS, according to Erma Rogers one of a few who have been with ICS Head Start from the very beginning.
Eventually parental education and involvement led to parents exercising their voting rights, she said.
ICS Head Start was originally housed at Rust College which received the first grant of $1.2 million through the college in November 1966. The program started up from scratch in houses or churches and sometimes abandoned school buildings in Februrary 1967.
The first two years of funding provided year-around services for pre-kindergarten children with 600 students from Marshall and Lafayette counties enrolled, Rogers said.
The first year there were 20 Head Start centers and today ICS operates permanent centers in 11 counties.
In the beginning
In 1966, the late Eddie Lee Smith Jr. with Rust College took the role as director for ICS for the two counties. He served for 10 months and chose the second director, Arvern Moore, who also was with Rust College, as his replacement.
Knowledge Gibson was hired as director of field operations. Each Head Start center had a director, teachers, teacher assistants, cooks and three nurses - Jean Burrow, Dorothy McAlexander, and Ms. Garner.
Soon Rust College was bursting at the seams and ICS moved its headquarters and center to the old hospital building downtown. In 1995 the headquarters and center were moved to their present location on West Valley Street.
Urma Lean Walker had always been a mother and farmer until she took her first job as center director at the Laws Hill Center. She was hired March 27, 1967, and the center was located in the basement of Mt. Peel MB Church. About 80 students enrolled the first year with Bernice Totten serving as assistant. There were four teachers, four teaching assistants, and a full day of school.
Children were brought to Mt. Peel in private vehicles, covered pickups and campers and privately owned vans, Walker said. A volunteer would ride with the driver to oversee the safety of the children.
Walker later transferred to the center at Marianna Primitive Baptist Church which had 40 students.
“We had to move church pews out every week for class, then move them back in for church,” Walker said. “At both Laws Hill and Marianna we had two hot meals a day and two snacks. We had on-site cooks. One of our students is now a teacher in the public school system and one is a pharmacist.”
Gibson picks up the story’s thread from there.
“At all the centers, except in two sites, there was no water or restrooms,” he said. “So we had to drill wells, put in septic tanks and sewage field lines. Some of the ladies helped the builders. They mixed mortar, passed blocks and shoveled gravel.”
“We (the ladies) put roofs on, laid flooring, painted the buildings and cleaned off lots and installed playground equipment,” Rogers said. “Our first swing was a tire on a chain. We used old tractor tires and electric wire spools were used for tables and seats.”
Wensie Bailey was working in Florida and sending money home to her family when she learned that ICS was hiring and came back home.
“Head Start is my first and only job in Mississippi,” she said.
Bailey helped start the Slayden/Mt. Pleasant Center, located in the old Gatewood Church. A two-room school building was located on the same property.
There were 90 children at the Slayden/Mt. Pleasant Center.
Gibson explained the reasoning.
In 1972, prefabricated buildings were used at Slayden/Mt. Pleasant.
Then in 1970 ICS began to consolidate its community centers which helped eliminate maintenance costs on the smaller centers, Gibson said.
“The whole idea back then is we thought if we put a center in all the little communities, it would draw interest and support from the community. And it did.”
In 1972 we got Volkswagon Vans - our first school buses. “We painted school bus across the front of them.”
“We carried it (Head Start) to the children,” Rogers said.
ICS was funded year around for the first two years then went to a nine month school year.
Rogers added that when she first started working with ICS there was a community committee for each center. She served as secretary for the Byhalia area center.
“Head Start was a demonstration project the first year,” Rogers said. “Committees were set up to see if Head Start could operate locally.”
Later, Barbara Ivory Whitaker of Atlanta helped get real school buses and played a role in consolidation of centers.
The Byhalia Center was first named the B.I. Whitaker Center and was later renamed the Erma Rogers Center.
In the 1980s, ICS began to spread its wings. In 1982, ICS took in the Delta Hill Head Start Program which brought in centers in Tunica, Quitman, Panola, Tallahatchie and Grenada counties.
Then in 1988, Tate and DeSoto counties handed over their Northwest Community Action Program to ICS. And in June 1997, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties were brought into ICS.
Today, ICS serves 3,639 students and has 180 in early programs for pregnant mothers, infants and toddlers. And ICS has over 850 employees. The 2008 budget stands at $25 million, twenty-five times the budget when it began 40 years ago.
ICS director Arvern Moore is given credit with seeing the way for things not yet dreamt.
Fannie Lampley, communications director, called Moore a visionary.
“These were the pioneers and builders of the whole operation - Wilbur Thompson, of Oxford, Moore, Smith, Bailey, Walker, Rogers and Gibson and many others,” she said.
Eloise McClinton has been named acting director of ICS Head Start.
She is pleased with progress at ICS.
In 2003, all children in Head Start were tested nationwide.
“We were shown to exceed the national norms for the National Reporting System Testing,” she said. “The evaluation has shown we are doing our job.”
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