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U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici tours preschool where Head Start program is housed

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici visits with a preschooler, Timmy, at the St. Helens Head Start building on Monday, May 6. Bonamici visited the classroom to see what students were working on and how the early childhood education program is progressing in Columbia County. A classroom of preschoolers at the Head Start facility near McBride Elementary School in St. Helens got a special visit Monday afternoon, May 6.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat and longtime supporter of the federally funded Head Start program, and who also helped secure additional funding for the program in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, stopped by the school Monday to observe the educational program firsthand.

Many of the preschoolers flocked over to inquire about the congresswoman, or show her something they were playing with or working on, but then quickly dispersed to return to their activities. Bonamici sat down with many of the children and instructors to ask what they were working on in small groups around the room.

Head Start focuses on providing early education and health, nutrition and family services to low-income families. In 2018, Community Action Team of Columbia County, which runs the Head Start program, received $2.16 million in federal money to pay for the Head Start program.

"I know those are dollars well spent because if kids are not ready to learn when they get into school it takes extra effort and they're less likely to succeed, and that creates

costs down the road," Bonamici said.

Visiting the preschool was a way for Bonamici to see the local impact.

"It's quite an honor to have her see what we do with our children and their families," JoAnne Dodge, the Head Start center manager, said during the visit.

Dodge helped escort Bonamici, several of her staff members and CAT Executive Director Dan Brown through the facility.

Bonamici, who serves on the federal House Committee on Education and Labor, is also planning to reintroduce legislation related to the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and touched briefly on the nutritional component of Head Start as well.

"I was pleased to learn there's a lot of nutrition education that's happening here today. We saw the kitchen and there's lots of focus on fruits and vegetables and healthy food," Bonamici said.

The main challenge facing Head Start programs is making sure communities and families' needs are met by making funding available to build capacity within the program, Bonamici said.

"The federal role is really about equity and making sure opportunities are available to those who otherwise would not have them, to level the playing field for kids who come from low-income backgrounds," Bonamici said. "That's why it's called Head Start — we give them a head start when they enter school and they're more likely to be successful."

Securing additional funding is a wise investment in education, Bonamici added.

"If young kids have an opportunity to be in a program like Head Start they can enter school ready to learn, and especially with low-income families, to close that gap, that opportunity gap," she said.

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