Groundbreaking held for new Early Head Start Center behind ACHS

Former Anderson County Schools Superintendent Larry Foster has always tried to approach education holistically. For him, early education plays a big role in that.

Foster said that, although he didn’t know it, he and his family grew up poor. His younger brothers and sisters benefited from Head Start.

“Not only was it an academic educational program, it was a program for all facets of life,” he said.

Armed with that background, he and his wife Nancy brought their passion for Head Start to Anderson County Schools decades ago. On Friday, they and many others celebrated the groundbreaking for an Early Head Start with adult education in support to pregnant moms and teen parents, which will be built behind the Anderson County Career and Technical Center.

Early Head Start serves children age six weeks through three years old.

“This is an extension of what Anderson County schools do — to take care of every student every day,” said current Superintendent Tim Parrott. “It may be 10 students that this helps, but those 10 students are so important to us. Being a teen parent, sometimes they’re all on their own. If they don’t have someone to support them, they sit at home and don’t get an education… It turns into generational poverty.”

Building a center for Anderson County’s youngest demographic wasn’t a question of why, but why not.

“It’s hard when a teen parent has to leave a child,” he said. “Mr. Foster and I asked ourselves, well, why can’t we do that? And today I’m excited that it has come to fruition. I know that it is about what we can do that makes the total of Anderson County a better play to live. I’m excited that Mr. Foster passed the torch to me.”

What Parrott is most excited about is the support the center will offer teen parents, from the prenatal stage through pre-K. It will create a ripple effect throughout the parents’ lives and that of their children.

“It helps with formula, diapers, and, once they graduate, their child can stay in the program and they can go out and get a job,” Parrott said. “It teaches them how to be a good parent. It’s a great program and it changes a community.”

That’s the Fosters main focus as well — bringing the village to the child.

“This is part of the village,” Foster said. “Call it a village or a community, but everyone comes together and plays a part.”

Nancy retired from the Head Start program in 2006, but still does contract work for the department. It’s something she is very passionate about, and it was often the subject of dinner conversations between her and her husband.

“When Larry and I were in the school system, he soon learned how important early childhood education was,” she said. “When he became the principal at the vocational center, he came and said he wanted a Head Start center at the school. We got busy and it worked out beautifully. We talked about the importance of it, and I would tell him, ‘Larry, you do all these things at the high school level, but it’s too late; you have to get started with the young child.’”

Students have the opportunity to receive technical career training at ACCTC.

Anderson County Schools Preschool Directory Shelby Haun spoke for a few minutes before the groundbreaking ceremony.

“It’s not common knowledge, but I was a teen parent,” she said. “So you needn’t worry about doing too much for them. You can’t do enough for them. I had to dig my way up without a lot of support. I wish God’s blessings on this and I take a strong stand that we support at risk people.”

“Low wages and lack of available jobs are critical problems in the Anderson County community,” said Anderson County Schools spokesperson Ryan Sutton. “One of the program’s goals is to address this problem. Parents will become better educated so that they can make a living wage to support families.”

It’s critical that young mothers and fathers complete high school, according to Sutton.

“Having an EHS center at the Anderson County Career and Technical center, which serves both of the county’s high schools, will support high school students with children in achieving this goal.”

The projected cost of the facility is $365,000, with $310,000 coming from the Office of Head Start. It will serve not just young parents, but everyone in the area that qualifies for Early Head Start.