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Step Forward hosts ARPA funding Announcement

Cuyahoga County – It was a packed classroom inside Louis Stokes Head Start Center Tuesday, October 25th, 2022, where Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, civic and nonprofit leaders, including Step Forward’s President and CEO Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm, announced new funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The city plans to invest $4.4 million from its pandemic-relief funds toward early childhood education. According to Nancy Mendez, Starting Point’s President and CEO, about $2.5 million will go toward teacher retention and bonuses and approximately $1.9 million will be distributed as scholarships to help parents to help them pay for childcare and preschool.

“This won’t completely solve the problem, but it’s an early step in the right direction,” Bibb said.

According to Starting Point, there are 4,000 fewer children enrolled in early childhood education compared to years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many fear that will have long-lasting effects.

How this latest round of funding will help with teacher retention

In August, Step Forward announced it, like many school districts and early childhood education centers nationwide, was facing a teacher shortage. As a result, the agency was not able to open about 24 classrooms throughout its ten directly operated Head Start centers in Cuyahoga County. Teachers and other educators admitted, while they loved the career and were passionate about teaching children, they needed financial stability.

“If you have ever had the privilege of watching children learn, you know it’s one of the most beautiful things,” Taja Salett, a co-teacher at Louis Stokes Head Start Center, said at the press conference. “I take pride in what I do. I love what I do. But the harsh reality is that this job doesn’t pay what it’s worth. That is leading to a lot of difficult questions for educators.”

Salett pointed out that the economy is worsening, and inflation remains high. It’s leading to a lot of teachers having to make difficult decisions.

“I have a family to provide for,” she said.

Chisholm weighed in at the press conference as well. She mentioned how Step Forward is losing teachers to public school districts and other business that pay more, including Target and Amazon.

“Education is key. You cannot get anywhere in this world without an education. That’s why this is so important,” she said. “We can’t teach without teachers. In fact, the classroom we’re currently in is closed because we don’t have a teacher.”

Behind Dr. Chisholm were several bins and cubbies with names on them. According to the Louis Stokes site administrator, children had started the school year in the classroom but were put back on the accepted list when a co-teacher resigned and the site could no longer meet the classroom's teacher-student ratio.

Cleveland City Council Member Stephanie Howse, District 7, said the latest round of ARPA funding that is aimed at recruiting and helping retain teachers in Cleveland will be put to use immediately.

"It's action like this that are at least trying to make an initial investment for the much larger work we have to do," she said.

Salett was happy to hear that.

“We are in 100 percent, trying to build the next generation. When we’re done teaching within these four walls, some of us go to a second job or we go home and give our all to our own children,” she explained, passionately. “This funding is a first step, so thank you. We have to do more to show teachers we appreciate them and invest in them as much as educators invest in Cleveland’s children.”

How $1.9 million will help parents access early childhood education

According to Starting Point, there are many parents who make a little too much to be able to access vouchers and assistance in order to pay for childcare and early childhood education.

“I made $10.50 an hour and I was denied a childcare voucher,” Briana Cannada, a parent and the chairperson for Louis Stokes Head Start Center, explained.

Cannada’s daughter attended one of Step Forward’s collaborative sites years ago. The most affordable childcare center Cannada could find cost $125 per week. At the time, it was more than a third of her income.

“But when I think of my daughter, who is now in second grade and excelling in her studies, I am positive that her time spent in Head Start is directly correlated to her current success,” she said. “Everyone, no matter their family's circumstance, deserves the opportunity to begin their education right and to develop a love of learning from the start.”

Now, Cannada’s son is attending Louis Stokes Head Start Center. In fact, he is in Ms. Salett’s Early Head Start classroom.

“I love that I get to see my son get excited about coming to school each day. I love that he wants to engage in every activity and interact with his peers,” she said. “We feel blessed that he has these opportunities and confident that Early Head Start and Head Start will be fundamental in his educational journey.”

Mendez said the scholarship program is being developed. She hopes to have the funding available to parents within the next few weeks. Those interested in applying for a scholarship or voucher can contact Starting Point directly.

About Step Forward Head Start

Step Forward connects parents and guardians to Early Head Start as soon as their baby is born.

Our agency is equipped to offer early childhood education to babies as young as six weeks old, either at your home or at one of our ten sites located throughout Cuyahoga County. Each center features colorful and inviting classrooms with caring and compassionate educators. Each child will have the opportunity to play with age-appropriate toys. equipment and learning materials. At each location, Step Forward provides necessary items like diapers and formula.

At the age of three, students transition to our Head Start program. Our passionate teachers

combine classroom instruction and learning through play to prepare them for kindergarten.

Each child receives individualized observations, health, dental and nutritional support.

Head Start is offered at home, at one of Step Forward's ten centers or through partnerships with school districts and childcare centers county-wide.

If you would like to enroll your child in one of our programs, click here for more information.

Step Forward is hiring! If you would like to join our team, apply today.

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