PHARR - Officials from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District on Feb. 15 celebrated the launch of the future site of the district’s Early Head Start campus.

The nearly 60-year-old former Buckner Elementary School, at 1001N. Fir St. in Pharr, is undergoing an approximately $3 million renovation that will accommodate most of the infants and toddlers now in the program.

Currently, the Early Head Start campus is housed in the district’s former Napper Elementary School in Pharr.

Dr. Hilda Medrano, professor in the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration, is principal investigator and director of an almost $41 million, five-year grant, received in 2016 by UTRGV from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Early Head Start grant provides full-day, full-year comprehensive child care services to 372 children from 6 weeks of age to 36 months, from low-income families in two high-poverty concentration areas.

Medrano partnered with the PSJA school district for this project.

“This Early Head Start program fulfills my vision and the vision of PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel King to establish a zero to 12th grade continuum of education,” said Medrano, who praised the commitment of King and the PSJA school board to the program. “The first years of a child’s life is the time when 80 percent of the brain’s development occurs. Waiting for pre-K is too late. We have to start with early education.”

The Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership includes a main Early Head Start campus serving 300 children, and two additional child care centers in Pharr and Alamo serving 72 children.

Its comprehensive services include fostering infants’ and toddlers’ physical, cognitive, social and emotional development to ensure each child reaches his or her potential and is ready for pre-K and beyond. The partnership also offers a unique simultaneous language development for the children in both English and Spanish, to enable them to graduate as bilingual and bi-literate, Medrano said.

Early Head Start also provides referral services to eligible low-income families enrolled in the program, including parenting education, professional development opportunities, family literacy and adult education. A current GED class recently implemented by the EHS has 17 parents enrolled.

Superintendent King, who attended the ceremony, along with several members of the PSJA School Board, said the district is committed to being a leader and a partner for the transformation of the community by improving the quality of life, the educational attainment level and the economic progress of the district’s families.

“The best place to start all this is at the beginning,” he said.

Deborah Daniels, child care program specialist, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care, Region VI, attended the event from Dallas.

The grant here is the largest in the region and among the top two in the nation, she said, and praised the dedication of the school district and university in ensuring the success of Early Head Start.

Dr. Patricia A. McHatton, dean of UTRGV’s College of Education and P-16 Integration, called the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership a community endeavor, “the essence of what education is all about.”

“It’s all about babies and children and helping them grow and be ready for when they begin school. It’s about supporting families to help them to do the things they want to do to help their children,” she said. “We (UTRGV) are committed to do what is necessary to improve the region and meet the needs of the region. By doing that, we are not only serving the region, but the state and the nation.”

A tour of the renovations underway concluded the event. Renovation amenities will include:

Five infant rooms.

27 toddler classrooms.

Three transition rooms.

One computer lab.

Two teacher workrooms.

An administrative area.

Staff and student restrooms.

Renovated parking lot and parking lot addition.

The renovations are expected to be complete by June 2017.

For more information, contact Medrano at hilda.medrano@utrgv.edu or call (956) 665-3891.