El Paso County's Head Start and Early Head Start programs are in jeopardy as the government stays shut down, said its CEO Wednesday.
Thirty Head Start programs across the U.S. were shut down Wednesday because they couldn't get access to critical grant money during the government shut down.
Community Partnership for Childhood Development, or CPCD, runs El Paso County's Head Start and Early Head Start programs. For now, its doors are open. However, if the government stays shut down, the programs are in jeopardy.
"Eighty percent of our children and families are living in poverty. Our mission is to ensure that they are prepared for success in school," said CPCD CEO Noreen Landis-Tyson. "We want to make sure they get the best early childhood education within the first five years of their life so that when they start school, they are prepared to succeed."
The program has 60 classrooms serving 1,100 students in El Paso County.
The Head Start and Early Head Start programs through CPCD are 75 percent federally funded. Head Start programs that were forced to shut down started their grant year Oct. 1. CPCD's grant year starts over Nov. 1. If Congress stays gridlocked for the next month, CPCD will run out of money.
If the shutdown ends in a few weeks, the program is still in jeopardy. The employees that process the grants are furloughed under the government shutdown. It takes a long time to process federal grants so there is concern that the grants won't be processed by the Nov. 1 deadline.
"When you have the opportunity to meet the children and families, it's very frustrating that they're caught in the middle of this," said Landis-Tyson.
On Wednesday morning, children at CPCD's classroom off Afternoon Circle colored, sang songs and eat breakfast. It might look like fun and games, but children are learning key skills for kindergarten.
"Social and emotional development, literacy, language, math, science social Studies," said teacher Dana Cooke, explaining the topics she covers in her classroom.
"Children who don't get an early education, particularly those who are living in poverty, often start school behind," said Landis-Tyson.
"Many of our families are just struggling to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and so consequently, many of them don't even have books at home. They don't typically read to their children. They often don't have the resources in the community to take their kids to the zoo, etc. All those experiences help develop their vocabulary and, those are all very important pre-reading skills," said Landis-Tyson.
Rachell Ruiz has two daughters in the program. Before the program, her 4-year-old had difficulty socializing with other children. Since joining the program, she has learned how to play with her classmates.
Ruiz's 3-year-old daughter had some speech problems. Her daughter has been able to work with a speech pathologist for free through the program and it has helped improve her speech problems tremendously. Ruiz said her family wouldn't be able to afford a speech pathologist on their own.
Children in the program are fed breakfast and lunch. Ruiz said the program helps her single-income family get by.
"It means everything to me," said Ruiz. "We don't have a lot of money to spend for food so this helps us with breakfast and lunch."
Ruiz is keeping a close eye on her girls and Congress. She will have to drop out of school to watch her girls if the program is impacted.
CPCD has already cut 142 spots from its program under sequestration.
Landis-Tyson said it's frustrating to see the program go backward when it helps children move forward.