Mark Zorbaleeff puts some final touches on the Head Start center, scheduled to open next month.
FREMONT - From a distance, the tan ranch-style structure rising out of the field near U.S. 6 looks every bit like the home of a doctor's office or insurance agency.
But when you get closer, the square, rectangular, and circular windows just off the ground give away the building's intended clientele.
Starting next month, more than 100 children from migrant farm families will fill Sandusky County's new Head Start center in north Fremont. The facility, which has 10,250 square feet, will host summer day care and preschool classes for youngsters from 6 months through age 5.
The center, which has nine classrooms, office space, and a commercial kitchen, is a long-awaited improvement for migrant families in Sandusky, Ottawa, and Seneca counties, said Louis Guardiola, Jr., regional Head Start director for the Texas Migrant Council.
“As you can see, it's set up in a fashion where it's very user-friendly for children,” Mr. Guardiola said, showing a visitor an unfinished classroom. “It's age-appropriate for the children. See how low the windows are? And there's the different shapes, so they can identify the circles and the squares, and the rectangles.”
The Texas Migrant Council is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Laredo that acts as an advocate for migrant families in Texas, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The council is building the Head Start center, which includes newly extended water and sewer lines, with a $600,000 grant from the federal Head Start bureau, $70,000 from the Sandusky County permanent improvement fund, and $500,000 in block-grant money from a county revolving loan fund.
Louis Guardiola, Jr., left, is regional Head Start director for the Texas Migrant Council, and Dan Liskai serves on the council's board.
The migrant council is leasing the center's 3.8-acre site from the county for $1,000 a month. Though spring rains delayed construction work, a ceremonial ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Saturday.
This week, workers will install the center's kitchen equipment and bathroom fixtures, and continue adding electrical outlets and ceiling panels. Unopened boxes of high chairs and toys clutter the linoleum classroom floors, along with paint cans, ladders, rolled-up rugs, and colorful vinyl mats.
“In the next week, this place will change dramatically,” Kurt Dotson, the project's construction manager, tells Mr. Guardiola. “It'll look a lot different next week.”
Each summer, thousands of migrant workers come to Ohio to pick crops such as pickles and tomatoes. Finding suitable day care for their children has been a major problem for the council, which has rented space from churches and other day-care providers.
With the new center, “We have everything we need right here,” Mr. Guardiola said.
“It's great to be able to have it in Sandusky County and northwest Ohio, where the diversity is, and to be able to educate the children, who are sometimes neglected,” said Dan Liskai, a county commissioner and member of the migrant council's board of directors. “And maybe someday get them out of the migrant stream. One of them could become a very important person, and this is where it all starts.”
The Head Start center will educate children, many of them from Mexico, in their native culture and language, while helping to integrate them into their summer surroundings. Students will be taught in English and Spanish.
“The strength of the Head Start program ... is that it focuses on the language enrichment,” Mr. Guardiola said.
In northwest Ohio, the migrant council operates Head Start centers in Millbury, Willard, and Helena, serving more than 500 youngsters. The Helena center, in western Sandusky County, has 169 children enrolled, just one short of capacity.
Once open, the Fremont center will have 31 full-time employees, including 14 teachers, with an annual budget of just over $250,000, Mr. Guardiola said.
“We are bringing in some opportunity for employment, so this is a nice partnership between us and the county,” he said.