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TORII STATION, Okinawa — Department of Defense Dependents Schools across the Pacific now are accepting applications for the 2005-06 school year’s Sure Start Program.

The program, similar to Head Start in the United States, is designed to give 4-year-olds a kick-start before beginning kindergarten, according to Jane Schneider, DODDS Pacific elementary curriculum specialist. Sure Start is a full-day preschool program using a “creative curriculum,” Schneider said. The program is made up of four components: educational, health, social services and parental involvement. Only children who turn 4 by Oct. 31 qualify.

The educational component offers various learning activities that encourage children’s social-emotional, cognitive and physical growth, she said, while the health portion provides medical, dental and special-needs screenings. The social-services aspect provides families with referrals and links to various community resources, Schneider said.

“We not only support the child but the whole family,” she said. adding that the community sources could be anything from college courses available to parents to a point of contact in the Women, Infants and Children office.

The parental involvement portion gets parents involved in their children’s education, which DODDS says is a big benefit. Schneider said parents of children enrolled in the program are required to volunteer a total of 60 hours in the classroom during the school year. That number can be modified for single parents or if one parent is deployed, she added.

But space is limited. Only 18 preschoolers are assigned to each Sure Start class, Schneider said. Of the 18 schools throughout the Pacific that offer the program, only two — Kadena and Sullivans elementary schools — offer more than one class.

Schneider said priority is given to children of enlisted servicemembers of ranks E-1 to E-4, and their civilian equivalents.

In addition to the sponsor’s rank, the following criteria also could be considered for enrollment: family income, child of low birth weight, a parent who was a teenager when the first child was born, a single-parent household, three or more siblings close in age, an older sibling with a severe disability, a parent on remote assignment for three or more months, a parent who has not graduated from high school and/or a parent whose primary language is not English.

A committee of DODDS and base services personnel decides which children will be admitted to the program, Schneider said. The committees should finish making selections by late August, she said. If children aren’t selected, their applications go back into the pool and are re-evaluated when openings occur.

Applications are available at participating schools. Contact your local participating school for more information and application deadlines.

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