HEY, KIDS! Keep the noise down up there! Imagine if you were government official and had to put up with children near the office. What leader in his or her right mind could govern with such distractions? … All right, Lincoln did. And Teddy Roosevelt. But who else?
Not the grownups on the Kinderhook Town Board. They’re scared the town will fall apart if they let three- and four-year-olds inside the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building, home to the governments of the Town of Kinderhook and Village of Valatie, including Town Court. As one town official said: This is an office building.
Uh, actually, it was a school building until the town and village repurposed parts of it.
The reasons given by the Town Board for its unanimous decision earlier this month to reject a request by Columbia Opportunities, Inc. to operate a small Head Start pre-k program in an unused classroom sounded silly. And they don’t honestly explain why the board dismissed the application.
The purpose of the federally funded Head Start pre-k is to prepare young kids from low-income families to learn when they enter school. In the process they get screened for health and developmental issues, they receive healthy meals and parents learn how they can help their children become successful learners.
Head Start has limits. Studies show that even in the best cases, only a third of kids will experience multi-year gains in school performance or other developmental milestones. One big obstacle is that early gains can fade quickly when a family’s poverty persists.
Did the town’s lame excuses for rejecting Head Start’s application mask disapproval of the Head Start program? If so, what is the Town Board is willing to do for low-income kids in the community and who should pay for it?
Kinderhook’s poverty rate is less than 4%; the countywide rate is three times higher. The local Head Start program is available only to residents who live in the Ichabod Crane School District. No tidal wave of Head Start Munchkins threatens to descend on Valatie.
People applying for a building permit or paying their taxes at the municipal building might have heard a squeal or a giggle as pre-schoolers marched to and from outdoor playtime. A grouch might have scowled at such mild distractions. Others might have heard a joyful sound affirming the liveliness of this community. But if the kids had occupied that third-floor schoolroom, would anyone downstairs have known they were there? Was it excessively noisy as a school?
What the board missed with its rejection of Head Start was the chance to enrich the scope of local municipal service without cost to the town. It wouldn’t have disrupted grownups’ work or put children at risk. (There are correction officers in court and a deputy sheriff’s office on site!) It could have sent a message that town government helps its citizens regardless of age or income. But instead the board chose to ignore rather than embrace its most vulnerable residents. What an example for the kids.