A local nonprofit’s preschool program has enough federal funding to serve 219 children this school year, but only has capacity for 160 due to the closure of three centers and a lack of teachers .
Three more head teachers are needed to reopen three of Maui Economic Opportunity’s 13 Head Start Centers in Maui County, including Haiku Head Start and Wailuku B Head Start programs in Haiku and Wailuku Elementary Schools, and Kahului B in Gardens by Luna.
Preschool teacher Desiree Barut is just one of eight primary educators remaining at Head Start as the first week of classes began this week.
“The reason I love being a teacher is because I love interacting with children,” Barut said Thursday after school by phone. “Even with my own kids growing up, I see the difference when there’s an adult figure in their lives. It doesn’t even have to be a teacher, as long as it’s someone who’s there and with who you can feel comfortable with and have that relationship in. They need to have that person to look up to.
MEO Head Start serves eligible children ages 3-5 from families living on Maui and Molokai, including low-income households, homeless individuals, children or foster families receiving assistance temporary support for families in need, an additional nutritional assistance program or an additional security income. .
All other families are eligible within the poverty income guidelines established by the Federal Income Table. Head Start also enrolls and serves children with special needs.
Debbi Amaral, director of early childhood services, said Thursday morning that “it’s disappointing” for residents of Haiku especially because this place only has one Head Start program, which “makes it very difficult.”
To honor families who have already been accepted into this year’s program, MEO has moved eligible keiki and families to Makawao B near Kalama Intermediate.
“Fortunately, families were very willing to drive from Haiku to Makawao B to receive services, so it’s an impact on the community, but we are doing everything we can to try to meet their needs within the resources we have. currently, “ said Amral.
Every preschool is valued, she said, but the Head Start program is unique in that it targets financially challenged and underserved communities.
Head Start is designed to help families build a strong foundation within their homes, but also to provide additional access to resources that may help them with employment, medical and dental needs, and nutrition.
There are approximately 60 students this year who may not have access to the benefits offered by Head Start programs due to staffing levels.
However, the challenges of recruiting or retaining teachers are multiple, starting with the fact that “there are specialized criteria and a set of qualifications that an individual must have”, said Amral.
The qualifications for early childhood development are very different from those of the state Department of Education, so it has been difficult to find people who meet the criteria.
First, MEO teachers are licensed by the Department of Social Services. In addition, an individual must have an associate’s degree in child development or a state certificate that meets or exceeds a CDA credential and leads to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, or complete the minimum education requirements within two years of the date of hire.
The full-time position pays between $18.76 and $23.04 per hour depending on the person’s qualifications and experience. Low hourly rates have also made it difficult to recruit, she said, but the county and state are working to make adjustments.
“I believe that we have really worked, first, on raising awareness of the importance of the position, and second, to recognize the work that our early childhood professionals do and increase their salary because it is difficult to attract individuals while their pay may be lower compared to other entry-level positions,” she says.
MEO lost three head teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic as they pursued different fields or left for other personal reasons.
Amaral added that the pandemic as a whole has created a lot of stress on staff as they adapt to new protocols, switch to remote learning, and then return to in-person classes.
This is not just a challenge at MEO, however. Other partner programs are also struggling to fill different positions in different capacities now that the school year has returned, she added.
“I know we’re not the only program struggling to secure, especially people with specific qualifications,” she says. “It’s really difficult right now.”
Teaching young children and supporting families in need has been rewarding for Barut despite the challenges.
She found her calling in early childhood development and education after her son, who is now in high school, had a good experience with MEO’s Head Start preschool program.
“Throughout the school year, I just saw funny things happen and my son never cried,” said Bart. “Each time he was always like ‘goodbye, mom’, like it was the best day of his life, so I knew it was just a really good place for him and I always tried to do volunteering whenever I could.”
The classes also helped her learn parenting skills and methods to practice and use at home.
She shared how she was inspired to provide that same educational experience for keiki as well as a safe and positive place for families to learn and grow together.
MEO was Barut’s first primary teaching role, where she has now worked for about five years in the Kahului A and Wailuku A Head Start buildings. She has 20 students enrolled in her Wailuku A class.
Although the three vacant centers are ready to operate with an appropriate license in case a new head teacher is hired, it would take at least a month for the individual to go through the hiring process, prepare the class, confirms the family interest in eligible students, arranging parent orientation, etc.
Those interested in chief teaching opportunities can call (808) 249-2990 or visit meoinc.org and click on the “careers” tongue.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]