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Regional agency takes over Otter Tail-Wadena Head Start program

The Otter Tail-Wadena Head Start program is being taken over by the West Central Minnesota Community Action Agency, effective July 16.

The switch is part of the dissolution of the Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council, and is possible through a grant from the federal Head Start Office.

During the dissolution, the Head Start program was being run by the Community Development Institute, out of Denver, Col.

The West Central Minnesota Community Action Agency’s Head Start program had already been working with children in Douglas, Pope, Grant, Stevens and Traverse counties, according to Valerie Arnquist, who has been the program’s director for 16 years.

The $1.2 million federal grant will allow the agency to take over the Otter Tail and Wadena county programs, which serve 164 children, Arnquist explained. In total across all seven counties it serves, the agency utilizes $3.3 million in grant funds to serve more than 460 children.

Arnquist stressed that the Head Start model families are used to will be the same, despite the new administration.

The typical Head Start service consists of four “classroom center days,” which last three and a half hours each, every week over the course of the school year, and is geared toward children ages three and four. Early Head Start consists of 90-minute home visits, 44 times per year, and is designed for children ages two and younger.

Teachers focus on school readiness goals in five domains: physical development and health; social and emotional development; approaches to learning; cognitive and general knowledge; and language and literacy.

“Head Start’s purpose is to ensure children are ready for kindergarten,” Arnquist explained.

WCMCA Executive Director Steve Nagle said, “with the Head Start program, we have a relationship with a family for a full year, and sometimes it’s two years depending on the age of a child. It’s our best shot at helping a family escape poverty. We work with the whole family – we view it as an anti-poverty program.”

The expansion of the program into Otter Tail and Wadena counties means that WCMCA will be hiring 17 new Head Start and Early Head Start teachers, bringing the agency’s total number of staff to 61.

Both Arnquist and Nagle expressed excitement over the agency’s new role in the area.

“We’re real flattered that we were chosen (for the grant),” Nagle said.

“We are sincerely excited to work in partnership with families and the communities of Otter Tail and Wadena counties,” Arnquist added.