Shiron Dorsey wasn’t sure she wanted to send her son to a formal preschool. She had home-schooled him through his toddler years, and he was thriving. At 4, Tahrie Peterson was already reading. But she knew it was time when he turned to her one day and said, “Mom, you’re my best friend. But I need new best friends, too.”

She began researching programs, checking reviews and thinking through what she wanted for his first classroom experience – and then she found Head Start.

“It took a lot for me to take that step,” she said of signing him up for the program in Baltimore City in 2019. “But I’m so glad I did.”

Dorsey said the teachers quickly got to know and love Tahrie and his classmates and nurtured the social and academic skills they will need to be successful in kindergarten. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift to virtual learning in 2020, the teachers found ways to continue the children’s progress.

“They already know how to add,” Dorsey said. “Addition, subtraction, 2D shapes, 3D shapes, compound words – and he knows these from being in Head Start!”

Tahrie’s program and other Catholic Charities Head Start sites are enrolling qualified families for the 2021-22 academic year, looking forward to resuming full-time, in-person classroom education.

National model, local impact

Head Start, a nationwide program created in 1965, focuses on children from low-income families, promoting the child’s school readiness and the family’s self-sufficiency through a variety of holistic services. Catholic Charities runs Head Start programs serving 4- and 5-year-olds in Baltimore City and Carroll County.

As in preschool classrooms everywhere, students learn age-appropriate skills – from potty training and ABCs to shapes and playground interactions. But Head Start also offers additional supports to promote family stability. These can include parent circles and nutrition classes, or referrals to job-placement or behavioral health services.

Dorsey, for example, said Tahrie’s program gave her a referral to behavioral health counseling after COVID-19 upended daily life.

“We provide a safe, stable, loving and nurturing environment for children,” said Valeria Foster, family services coordinator supervisor for Catholic Charities’ Baltimore City sites.

Enrolling future families

After a challenging year that included a variety of virtual and hybrid schedules, Catholic Charities Head Start programs in Baltimore City and Carroll County both plan to hold in-person classes at full capacity this fall, as long as local COVID-19 data doesn’t shift dramatically.

This summer, Baltimore City programs are hosting open-enrollment days that allow families with complete documentation to walk in and enroll a child without an appointment. The next open-enrollment days will be on Aug. 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 765 W. Hamburg Street, and on Aug. 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2848 W. Lafayette Avenue. Interested families can also contact the program at 667-600-3783 or through this form.

Carroll County is also accepting applications for its sites. Interested families can call 667-600-2571 and ask for the ERSEA (Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment and Attendance) Coordinator, who will schedule an appointment, or visit this site.