PATERSON, NJ- It’s never too early for a child to start learning, and in Paterson, thanks to Greater Bergen Community Action (GBCA), nearly 750 children aged from three months to five years old are getting a top class educational foundation in “safe, happy, and healthy” learning environments.

TAPinto Paterson was welcomed in to the organization’s Eastside facility on Friday, one of three in the city, as Paterson Mayor Jane Williams-Warren, toured the classrooms, chatted with educators, and got an up close look at how the federally funded program operates and serves the city’s youngest residents.

While this was Warren’s first time visiting the classrooms, she showed that she is no stranger to the program’s efforts, and left “thrilled” with the level of dedication she saw the teachers and administrators offer throughout her time there. Most likely unaware of the role that she plays as the Chief Executive of the city they will soon understand is home, several children ran to Williams offering embraces and smiles that were quickly returned with warmth and caring.

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“Beautiful,” she uttered repeatedly as the tour progressed, saying later that “if you don’t love what you do you can’t do it well,” while surmising that the teachers and staff she interacted with had big hearts when it came to the children left in their care every day. 

It’s not just the children, however, that Head Start services. 

According to Nancy Greiner, Director of Head Start and Early Head Start for GBCA, their efforts are aimed at preparing the whole family for their children’s transition from early childhood education to kindergarten and beyond.

Their efforts to “expose children from a young age to a social and academic environment,” were obvious throughout the tour, and their mission of getting entire families ready for education became apparent as Greiner rattled off a list of services including ESL, financial literacy training, tenants’ rights education, and even tips on food shopping with healthy eating and savings in mind, that they also provide.

With smaller classroom sizes, an adherence to the Paterson School District’s curriculum, and certified teachers, Greiner believes that the Head Start program offers opportunities that other early education providers in Paterson don’t. Each of their facilities also boasts a nurse, and their social workers work with much smaller caseloads to provide more attention to those in need. The services of the on-site nutritionist, she said, are also made available to parents seeking to alter their diets for a healthier lifestyle.

Even with their commitment to keeping teacher/student rations low for maximized learning the Head Start program currently has between 70-80 spots available that can be filled in the early spring, “to get a head start on September.” With income eligibility guidelines to enroll in the program based on a number of factors, Greiner recommends that every Paterson family fill out an application and allow their enrollment officers help determine whether or not they qualify. 

On her her way out the door Warren told TAPinto Paterson she “never believed Paterson is place that wouldn’t make it.” Giving a final glance at the brightly colored walls and recalling her interactions with the students she concluded “Paterson has so much to offer,” undoubtedly including Head Start on that growing list.