Sue Todd, CEO of Gloucester's Pathways for Children, says she joined the organization 32 years ago because she wanted to make a difference.
"And that's a feeling," she adds, "that I think every member of the staff here shares."
Todd describes the programs that Pathways offers 780 children on Cape Ann as "awesome," and the federal government has offered the local family service agency a tangible sign that it agrees.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Pathways for Children a five-year Head Start federal grant with an annual budget of approximately $2.3 million.
That annual $2.3 million, says Sue Todd, will allow Pathways to almost double the reach of its Head Start early education program, bringing the total number of students served to more than 400. That's up from the 232 being served from Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, Manchester and Ipswich.
Effective July 1, Pathways Head Start program also assumes responsibility for the communities of Peabody, Salem, Danvers, Beverly, Topsfield, Hamilton, Wenham, Middleton and Boxford, requiring the addition of 40 new staff to its existing 110.
The timing is tight, says Todd, but Pathways can leverage its strengths to achieve an efficient transition,
"My staff is amazing, I tell them all the time, 'you make me look good'" says Todd, adding that years of experience, strong management, facilities, a highly qualified staff, and geographic proximity make the addition of the eight communities "an ideal fit."
"The federal government has always given Pathways great reviews," notes Todd, "particularly in Head Start." Pathways COO Caroline Haines could not be reached for comment, but Todd credits her "tremendous expertise in the Head Start arena" as key to the organization's outstanding performance.
One of the longest-running programs to address systemic poverty in the U.S., Head Start began nationally in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society campaign, and has evolved over the years from an eight-week catch-up pre-kindergarten summer school program into a nationwide program that has provided comprehensive pre-school education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to over 25 million low-income pre-school aged children.
Pathways' Head Start classrooms feature math, science, social and language skills are part of the daily curriculum — with breakfast, lunch and a snack are served, along with lots of encouragement.
Classes are also scheduled to meet family needs, while morning classes are free and full-day afternoon classes have a sliding fee scale. Eight Head Start classrooms are located at Pathways' main site on Emerson Avenue, two additional small centers are located nearby.
"We regard the parent as the primary teacher of children," says Todd, "and we respect our parents and work with them." Todd says that Pathways "sees more than its fair share of single, hard-working parents, including single dads."
Many of them, she says, have jobs that are not "family friendly." If a single parent needs time out from work to tend to their child's needs, says Todd, they may very well lose their job. Pathways' philosophy, says Todd, is to offer such parents and children the support of an extended family.
Pathways, which began as a program of Action, Inc., spun off on its own in 1979 in order to focus on working with the entire family rather than just the child. It's that primary focus, Todd says, that sets it apart from the majority of early childhood education centers.
In addition to Head Start, Pathways provides a variety of programs and services for children from infancy through adolescence and their families. These include programs for infants, and those in preschool to middle school, teen and parent mentoring, family and community engagement initiatives and social and health services for participating families.
"These programs directly benefit our communities by enriching minds and ultimately enriching lives," Todd noted. "Children develop learning skills, become socially aware and gain confidence, which translates into productive citizenship."
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.