Many Head Start centers in Mississippi are making extra efforts this year to reach out to the growing Hispanic population.
Officials with Mississippi Action for Progress are currently translating agency material into Spanish; in some areas, Head Start officials are even going door-to-door talking to parents within Hispanic communities.
The RLT Smith Center in Meridian is one of 25 Head Start centers run by Mississippi Action for Progress. At that center there's increased emphasis on promoting a bilingual education.
"We know that the culture is changing in our area, and I think that's not just here, it's happening everywhere," says RLT Smith Center administrator, Alexia Rushing.
"You know, many of the children are born here, but they never hear a word of English until they come to school," says MAP Multi-Cultural Coordinator, Sullivan Jones. "We just want to make sure that we help to bridge that gap before they go into public school."
As with the other MAP Head Start Centers, Spanish is already a part of the curriculum at RLT where there's a multi-cultural area in every classroom.
"It's not just for Hispanic students, but we believe that bilingual education is great," says Jones. "There are studies that are being done every day that show that bilingual education helps a child later on, whether they continue in that language or not; it helps with their critical thinking skills and math skills."
In east central Mississippi, Head Start centers with the largest Hispanic populations are in Scott County. For example, at the center in Forest about 60 out of the 140 plus students there this year are Hispanic. In Lauderdale County the numbers are not that high, but the population is growing.
"The Hispanic population is growing in Mississippi particularly because other states have really cracked down on immigration and a lot of Hispanics are coming to Mississippi looking for jobs that we offer here," says Jones.
Although special emphasis is being placed on reaching out to the growing Hispanic community, MAP officials stress that they want to reach children from all cultures.
"Because that's the way the world is and if we would learn how to embrace other cultures and races, we would be so much better off," says Rushing.
Head Start registration is currently underway. The program serves expectant moms and children who are newborns up to 4-years-old. In order to register, parents or guardians must provide: their 2012 proof of income, along with the child's birth certificate, insurance and social security cards and immunization records.