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PCC helping Hispanic teachers get a Head Start
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. – The Hispanic Head Start project, Puente al Futuro, helped to open the world to Patricia Alvarado. Now, she’s helping to open the world to others.In 1995, she and her husband moved to Oregon from Mexico and she knew no English. But now, Alvarado speaks the language very well and recently completed her first year in the PCC Early Childhood Education (ECE) Hispanic Head Start program. She even completed both her beginning and intermediate practicum and is close to completing her associate’s degree in ECE. Alvarado plans to continue teaching in a bilingual program like a migrant Head Start program and help Latino children get the attention they need.In 2000, Congress revised the Head Start Act requiring that 50 percent of Head Start teachers obtain an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education by 2003. Although the initiative has been met on the national level, programs serving large Hispanic populations face significant barriers.In response to these challenges, PCC partnered with two Head Start agencies Oregon Child Development Coalition and Community Action Organization of Washington County. The partnership assists Head Start teachers and staff in completing an associate of applied science degree in Early Childhood Education. This four-year project provides student assessment, academic planning, tutoring, early childhood education coursework, and English language instruction in early childhood content."The work the grant supported has been excellent,"said Juanita Santana, executive director, Oregon Child Development Coalition’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start. "I feel strongly that the project created opportunities for the students. More importantly, it makes institutional changes within the educational system and PCC will benefit from these changes."The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the $599,680, four-year grant to PCC in October of 2000. This will be the final year of the grant and managers from the collaborating organizations have worked hard to sustain the project so that more like Alvarado can get their degrees."I have another year left and I work as a Head Start teacher in Cornelius,"says Alvarado. "My husband and I knew very little English when we came here. He knew that I had to learn and his encouragement was for my own good. To get over (the language barrier) and shyness I had to be more open."Alvarado’s son attended Head Start and she became a volunteer mother. There she saw how the program was beneficial for families who are new to the country. "It was really good for me because I learned childhood development, activities on how children grow and how they think."She moved on to the Migrant Head start program soon after and eventually took English classes at Poynter Middle School in Hillsboro and PCC’s Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses. That’s when she found out about the PCC Early Childhood Education program and decided to get her degree. "I needed to learn the language, so I could help my son study and I could communicate with his teacher,"says Alvarado, who was an accountant in Mexico. "Now I can communicate and I feel really good about my work. I went to PCC and saw differences in cultures and languages and I enjoyed working with the different people. It’s something that’s really been incredible."The Hispanic Head Start project addresses the shortage of bilingual teachers of Latino children and reduces barriers experienced by Migrant Head Start teachers in accessing the educational system."Puente al Futuro has been terrific and has changed our program from the foundation up,"said Susan Sager, director of PCC’s Early Childhood Education program. "Our early childhood program has become more responsive to students and families. We have become a learning community that honors culture, language, growth and development of all children, families, students and staff."