Staff Report

Friday, March 13 of this year was suddenly the last day of school for the 894 children that attend preschool through the Children’s Services program at Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County (CAC). Immediately after the weekend, beginning March 16, the 250 teachers and staff members for the core program Head Start and CAC’s other educational programs for young children began instruction again – albeit not in the classroom.

Learning at home is accomplished with front door drop-offs of school supplies, art projects and activities as well as phone calls and texts to students’ families with weekly lesson plans. If a computer with Wi-Fi is available in a student’s home, then remote learning with Zoom technology is also utilized. Head Start has always stressed the importance of parent involvement, encouraging and provide training to parents to be actively involved in child’s education, to be their child’s advocate. Since mid-March, preschool educators have provided at-home teaching tips and activities – such as a recipe for making playdough – to adults caring for young children enrolled in the program.

“On July 6, we plan to reopen all 24 of our preschool centers from Guadalupe to Cuyama to Carpinteria,” said Lorraine Neenan, CAC Children’s Services Program Director. “Initially we will open for those students in our full time, full year Head Start program, followed by an August 16 opening of all programs for a full start of the 2020/21 school year.”

The preschool programs include Full Time/Full Year Head Start, Part Time/Part Year Head Start, and Early Head Start for infants and toddlers, as well as California State Preschool and Child Development Services. A healthy breakfast, lunch and nutritious snacks are provided Monday through Friday to all students.

“In working towards this July 6 reopen date for the 3-to-5-year-olds in Head Start full day, full time, we are preparing for 10 students per classroom instead of the usual 17 to 20 students,” said Neenan. “We will have the extra classrooms to accomplish this since the part time, part day students won’t yet be returning. It’s not yet clear how many students will be returning, or how many new enrollees we might have when we reopen.”    

Current high unemployment in the county means more parents will qualify to enroll their young children in the preschool program for low-income families. Conversely, unemployment can mean parents will stay home with their previously-enrolled young children – perhaps they no longer have transportation to the preschool centers.

“Some families might be afraid of sending their kids back-to-school,” added Neenan.

There are many health precautions that are being implemented or considered at Head Start classrooms in Santa Barbara County, including:

  • requiring teachers, staff and parents (anyone over the age of 13) to wear masks while at the preschool centers; masks for pre-school children will not be required
  • taking temperatures (with non-contact infrared thermometer) of students, teachers, staff, parents and any visitors daily upon arrival to preschool centers
  • no longer serving breakfast, lunch and snacks “family-style”; nutritious meals will now be individually pre-plated and plastic-wrapped
  • handwashing in the classroom by children, teachers and staff has always been important at Head Start but now even more so
  • no longer allowing items from home, such as blankets and stuffed animals, in the classroom; possibly providing children with blankets for in-classroom use that are cleaned/sanitized daily
  • creating anti-virus barriers between cots for naptime
  • allowing only 10 children on the playground at a one time

At Head Start, every child receives a variety of learning experiences to foster intellectual, physical, social, and emotional growth. Children participate in indoor and outdoor play and are introduced to the concepts of words and numbers to ensure they are ready for kindergarten. They are encouraged to express their feelings, and to develop self-confidence and the ability to get along with others.

During weekly phone calls since the health crisis, preschoolers have expressed their sadness and anxiety to their Head Start teachers. “I miss my teachers. I miss my friends. Who’s feeding the fish?” is a typical refrain.

“We see Head Start of Santa Barbara County as an important asset in building strong, self-sufficient families which, in turn, strengthens our community.” Families interested in the Head Start program can call (805) 964-885 ext. #1194. More information is available at or on Facebook