© Jerry F. Couch
First, some background information…
In the 1960’s, poverty in America was finally acknowledged as a self-perpetuating social problem. Numerous federal economic development programs were created with the intent of breaking the cycle of poverty. One such program was Project Heat Start.
Created by the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Community Action Program, Project Head Start made its debut in 1965. Originally, the program operated for 8 weeks during the summer. Later it was expanded to a year-round program. Head Start provided skill-building experiences to enable disadvantaged children to become more “school ready.” At that time, kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs were much less common than today.
Over the years, Head Start has been shifted among government agencies and there has been some disagreement regarding its effectiveness. However, most of us know that doing something versus doing nothing is always effective. We can never quantify “what might have been.”
Following desegregation of Virginia’s public schools in 1965, children who had attended the Arty-Lee School at Dante began attending school at Castlewood. In 1967, the former Arty-Lee School building was chosen as the location for a Project Head Start center in Russell County. The following story about the center is transcribed from a story that appeared in the April 27, 1967 edition of the Clinch Valley Times.
DANTE MODEL CENTER FOR THE STATE
Dante’s “Head Start” Child Development Center that is now conducting classes for 5-year-old pre-school youngsters has been designated a “Model Center” for the State of Virginia.
Personnel at the center includes Beulah B. Powers and Claude Cooper, teachers; Patricia Davis and Janice Cook, aides; Mrs. Harry Ervin, a parent of a student, and Brother Patrick Woods, volunteer. Paul Adams is the bus driver for the center.
Mr. Daniel Dye is coordinating for Russell Area Development Corp., sponsor of the center, and Mrs. Pauline Edmonds is the director of the Dante Center, working under the direction of Mr. Dye.
The center is located in the Arty Lee School. Presently there are 32 students participating in classes using two classroom, a parent’s lounge, and the cafeteria.
Unlike kindergarten as most of us know it, there has been substituted into this Head Start Program a fairly new teaching method to Southwest Virginia. The method used at Dante is called the Montessori Method. This is somewhat a freedom of movement method, where the children can move about, pick up toys and play or work with them, return the plaything to its rightful spot, then pick up another and do likewise.
At the Dante Center these toys or games are educational tools. Some are on the order of picture puzzles. The children put pieces together and finally end with the desired result.
The Montessori Method allows freedom of movement in general, provided it does not cross the borders of good manners, social order, and harmony. The children work happily together, moving independently to and fro, picking up toys, going to an assigned table with their names in front of their seat, sit down, study or play with the game or toy, then return the item to its assigned place.
Simple tasks are being taught at the Dante Center, such as washing one’s hands and serving orange juice to other classmates at a given time.
Children are served a warm meal at noontime after which they return to their classroom, pick up a rug that is all their own, and lie down for what is called a “quiet period.”
Play is also part of this method. Periods are set aside for supervised play outdoors, which is enjoyed by the youngsters.
This is one of two pilot projects in the state. Not only is this center a “model center” for the State of Virginia, it is also a study center for the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina. These universities will be making psychological studies of the progress of each child and his or her reaction to various teaching aids.
The Dante Head Start project is a year-round program for children from families in the low-income group. Because the program only began last week and will conclude in August, children who are currently enrolled will not get a full year of pre-school instruction. However, children entering this fall will receive a full year’s instruction.
In addition to the many things offered to children at the center, parents are invited to be a part of the program. They can visit and be with their children at any time; enjoy lunch with them; and help the teachers if there is a need in the classroom.
Parents have a lounge all their own, where they can relax or work on smocks for the children to wear when painting. Sewing machines have been installed in the lounge for this and other purposes as needed at the center.
A full-sized kitchen will soon be installed for the girls and a work bench for the boys. These new additions will be built to specifications and be size-appropriate for the children who will be using them.
There are many new features being incorporated into this Head Start project. The parents of the children in the program are invited by the school to come and be part of the program. The general public is also invited to come in and look over this new approach to education.
UPDATE —- This memento of the Dante Head Start program was sent to us by Sonya Davis. In 1984 she was a member of this class. We will check our archives and if the original negative of this photo is on file, we’ll add it.
Thank you, Sonya, for contributing to this story!