City News

Federal grant will help renovate new, free preschool in west Salem

Student desks at the preschool program for Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality’s Preescolar Aprendiendo Avanzamos on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

More families in west Salem will be able to access preschool starting this fall once Community Action Head Start moves into a new facility.  

The city of Salem plans to award the local Head Start $700,000 in federal funds to help rehab two buildings the west Salem preschool and infant/toddler classes will be based in.  

Head Start is a federally funded preschool program for low-income families. 

Eva Pignotti, director of Head Start and Early Head Start at the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said the organization is buying property on Wallace and Taybin Roads. She said they’re expecting to close on the buildings next month. 

It will be called the Wallace Early Learning Center with plans to open in September.  

Pignotti said Head Start was leasing space in west Salem from Family Building Blocks, but there hasn’t been enough room for all the families that want to join.  

She said it’s the only Head Start location in the area that’s had a wait list during the pandemic.  

In August, Head Start had hundreds of slots unfilled as parents faced uncertainty about what school would look like and concerns about Covid.  

Pignotti said the new location will be able to serve about 84 kids between two preschool classrooms and two infant toddler classrooms.  

That’s double what they’re currently able to serve.  

Head Start is planning to use two buildings, one a former medical office and the other a child care center.  

She said they plan to put in a commercial kitchen and new HVAC system.  

In the medical building, they’re planning to take down the interior walls and separate them into different spaces for preschoolers.  

The city of Salem is awarding rehabbing funds as part of its allocation from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

“This program will provide support for rehabbing an existing childcare facility to meet the needs for income eligible families,” the annual plan states.  

Pignotti said Head Start has faced issues with families making too much to qualify for the program.  

With the new facility, she said they’re planning to apply for Preschool Promise slots, which have a higher income limit to receive free preschool. It’s for families living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four making $53,000 per year would qualify. Head Start is limited to 100% of the federal poverty level.  

“What we want to do is increase our ability to serve preschool children in different income categories,” she said, adding that the classes will be blended. 

Pignotti said Head Start is seeing children struggling with mental health and social, emotional development during the pandemic.  

“Social emotional development is really important to be happening at that early age,” she said. 

She described the new preschool addition as “a beautiful facility” that will add to the landscape of west Salem.  

“I think it’s really great for any growth we see in Polk County. Marion County tends to get a lot of resources, while Polk County is sometimes left behind,” she said. “We’re really trying to make sure that we’re serving the entire service area of Marion and Polk county and not just focusing on the city.” 

Head Start will begin taking applications for the upcoming school year on April 1.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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