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NMSU Head Start to participate in national program for benefit of community

The New Mexico State University Head Start program will receive resources for its families and training for employees this May, while participating in the University of California/Pfizer Health Care Institute in Albuquerque.

Statistics from the institute show that when parents better understand health care issues, spending from state and federal entities as well as Medicaid are decreased. According to institute figures based on a group of 10,000 families, the institute's education methods for Head Start Programs led to a total Medicaid cost savings of almost $5.5 million in direct costs.

Amanda Gibson Smith, director of the Dona Ana County Head Start program, said the institute, which is lead in part by UCLA's Anderson School of Management, also will show program employees a key to reaching the public - marketing.

"The team from UCLA will train our program on how to get information to key stakeholders, gather community support, recruit parents, conduct training and track the data gathered," Smith said.

She said participation in the institute allows for important resources for the program, such as educational books for parents, as well as invaluable employee training. In turn, Head Start programs keep track of families and report the data to the institute.

Smith said it has been an initiative of Gov. Bill Richardson to encourage participation in this institute statewide. The Dona Ana Head Start will participate for the first time through an institute grant, which provides a stipend for Head Start staff to attend initial "Train the Trainer" sessions.

"We'll market the program to parents and get them involved," Smith said. "We are very excited about the possible impact on the community."

Once parents understand how information from the educational books and resources can help their families, family healthcare takes care of itself, she said.

Smith said Dona Ana County Head Start currently provides healthcare education to families in several steps. She said a pre-assessment of the family is conducted, and then a book, "What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick," is presented in whatever language the parents of the family need. After that, training over material from the book is given.

"What makes the program successful is that parents are given resources to manage a health related crisis, and are thus empowered to better care for themselves and their children," Smith said.

Head Start is a federally funded, comprehensive child development program that offers educational, medical, dental, nutritional, mental health, disability, parent involvement, family partnerships and other services to families.

The Dona Ana County Head Start is a part of NMSU's continuing efforts to help educate and improve the lives of citizens in the community. For more information on this outreach program, call Smith at (505) 647-8733.