MARTINSBURG – Head Start has been in existence for 30 years in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties, serving the youngest learners and their families.
As teacher shortages and challenges in filling positions in many education-related jobs continue, barriers are visible at all levels and in all areas, including the local long-term curriculum. Head Start date.
“It affects us so much when we don’t have the staff because of the number of regulations we have to follow. I feel hopeless right now,” said Heidi Bach-Arvin, local program director Head Start.
Normally, there are 28 classrooms in the three counties, but as the lack of potential hires continues, that number of classrooms threatens to decline.
“We are missing one in five Morgans. We’re missing one in seven at Jefferson, and we’re missing half at Berkeley. We are eight out of 16,” Bach-Arvin said.
The challenge of finding qualified people is not a new problem in education; however, the issue has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and continues today. Bach-Arvin said Head Start is no stranger to challenge, like most educational entities, but the shortage is worse than ever, calling it a scary time.
“Not to this degree (did we see a problem). This year has been very devastating, I think that’s the best word,” she said. “Normally we have at least some long-term qualified submarines that we can put in place, but there is a shortage of availability at all levels.
The shortage is not just for educators, but for all positions, just like in the traditional public school sector, like Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.
The challenge’s problems snowball for Head Start, as a lack of staff could close classrooms, which could cause more obstacles from there.
“The basic level is if we don’t have the staff, we can’t open the classrooms,” Bach-Arvin said. “If we can’t open the classrooms, we lose some of our funding, our federal funding, which sort of snowballs. Children need to be in classrooms, socializing. You can’t do virtual very well, if at all, with this age group. We get more behaviors, which is to be expected. They face a lot of things, and if we don’t have the classrooms to provide them, it affects them.
Bach-Arvin said that due to the requirements that Head Start follows due to regulations such as the Head Start Performance Standards, Child Care License and State Policy 2525, the job of an educator requires a great sense of passion and dedication.
“It’s like being in the army: it’s not just a job; it’s an adventure,” laughs Bach-Arvin.
It is with this passion and dedication that the staff at Head Start tackles every class and every school year.
“We have phenomenal teachers who have been with us for quite some time,” she said. “What they offer these kids is amazing to me, and I was in class at one point. I greatly appreciate their dedication and their desire to come back year after year to do so.
Complicating the challenges, recruitment strategies are being adapted in the midst of the pandemic. EPIC director Sherry Barnett said virtual job fairs have been much tougher than in-person ones, pending daytime fairs have all returned to normal.
Thinking back to the beginning of EPIC and Head Start in the region, how the program served younger learners before the introduction of universal pre-K that is offered in local counties, Bach-Arvin explained the fear that the shortage caused.
“I keep coming back to the time spent in the counties, to the presence,” she said. “We were here before universal pre-K was a thing. When universal preschool came out, counties were looking to us for how to set up classrooms, things to order, how to do that. It’s disheartening to think that the change could be so dramatic because it affects so many families. In Berkeley County alone, we normally have 221 children.