Rutland County Head Start is adding another classroom in an effort to help Rutland’s children catch up to the rest of the state.
The organization, which offers programs aimed at getting preschool-age children ready for school, announced late last week it had attained national accreditation, enabling it to expand programming. The new classroom at the Hickory Street facility will add 10 slots to the program, though director Marie Gilmond said Wednesday that still falls short of what the area needs.
“We have a lengthy waiting list,” she said. “We were hoping to expand even more. I’m still working on other grants for that.”
Gilmond cited statistics showing children starting kindergarten in Rutland City schools are underprepared compared to the rest of the state, with roughly 60% described as “ready” compared to about 70 to 90% in other school districts. Robert Bliss, assistant superintendant for Rutland City Public Schools, said kindergarten readiness is measured annually by the Vermont Agency of Education.
“It is a subjective survey wherein every teacher in our district ... does a survey on the teacher’s opinion of students’ readiness in their class,” he said.
The survey covers physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, communication and approaches to learning. Bliss said that while the state average has gone up about 2% in recent years, Rutland has gone down 8%. Bliss said there are a number of suspected causes.
“One, this is a correlation, not a cause, but they’ll say poverty levels correlate to troubles learning,” he said.
Another correlation is access — or lack thereof — to high-quality early child care and high-quality early education.
“There’s a deficit across the state, but it’s really pronounced in Rutland County,” he said.
Finally, Bliss noted that 2013 was the year opiate-exposed births at Rutland Regional Medical Center peaked at 16.6%. By 2016, the most recent year for which data was available, Bliss said it was back down to 13.2%.
Whatever the cause, Bliss said the result is students arriving unprepared for the structure of a classroom environment, or unsure how to get along with peers and solve problems.
Gilmond said the program teaches children how to make friends, begins lessons in reading and writing, involves music and features a variety of presentations and short-term programs.
“Nutrition is a big part,” she said. “The classroom may do a project where they look at a food or try to introduce vegetables to kids. What is a carrot? Where did a carrot come from?”
Gilmond said the new classroom should be operating by September.