Center specialist Jasmine Lewis (left) and teacher Victoria Hammons, GLCAP Clyde Early Childhood Education Center staff who assisted a family in crisis in fall 2020.
Head Start teachers often serve in roles that go well beyond teaching, especially when families are in crisis.
“We know the life of every single one of our students and families,” said Jasmine Lewis.
Jasmine is a center specialist for Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP)’s Head Start program. For most of 2020 and into the current year, GLCAP’s early childhood centers shifted from in-classroom teaching to an online model, presenting a new challenge for teachers and staff to maintain good relationships with families in a new virtual environment. For one student at Jasmine’s center, maintaining contact was critical for ensuring the student’s safety and well-being.
The student, a four-year-old boy, began attending in-person classes in late summer 2020. Within the first few weeks of school, staff noticed distressing signs. His teacher, Victoria Hammons, said he did not interact or speak with other children, and would spend most of his days at school looking at the floor—all behaviors that went well beyond shyness.
“After the first week, he was still hanging back and not interacting,” Victoria said. “It’s very atypical for a child to be nonverbal at this age.”
The student was noticeably tired, hungry, and unclean. Then, staff heard stories about home.
“His mom was open with our family advocate about having a drug and alcohol problem, and was exhibiting paranoid behavior, calling police at all hours of the night,” Jasmine said.
A breaking point finally came when staff heard from the mom that she was in jail and would not be taking her son to classes anymore. This happened shortly before the center moved from in-person to virtual classes to prevent the spike in COVID-19 cases that were happening throughout Ohio. With in-person classes soon ending, staff acted quickly, immediately contacting the student’s grandmother to support her efforts to obtain guardianship of her grandson and his two siblings.
“Just before we went virtual, his mother called the center from jail and detailed that she would no longer be bringing him,” Jasmine said. “We sprang into action.”
“Through close, trusting ties with the family, the staff and I were able to support his grandmother through the transition to full guardianship, including setting up wraparound services with GLCAP and county partners,” Jasmine said.
While obtaining full guardianship allowed the grandmother to make decisions regarding her grandchildren’s schooling and seek additional services, the decision came with added stress. Since the student’s grandmother had just retired from her job and was now taking responsibility for three children, staff wanted to ensure that she had the support she needed to cope with the change and keep herself and her family healthy.
“I talk to his grandma a lot,” Victoria said. “It’s a lot to take on. She was very overwhelmed, and we extended our help.”
The grandmother did not have a vehicle, so staff helped organize trips for the family to the local food bank and weekly food deliveries to the family. Staff also sponsored the family during the holidays to help the family have a good Christmas, especially as this was the first Christmas for the children without their mother present.
“We rallied around the family and worked as a center team to give support,” Jasmine said.
With in-person classes now back in session, staff are noticing a marked difference in the student’s personality and classroom performance, and staff are continuing to stay in close contact with the family to help in any way they can.
“We are thankful we had the opportunity to rally around this family in need and ensure that they knew the community is behind them,” Jasmine said. “Our student is now closer to receiving the IEP services he needs and is visibly healthier in appearance and thriving in the classroom now.”