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HUNTINGTON — The Southwestern Community Action Council Inc. in Huntington has been awarded a more than $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its Head Start program.

The Southwestern Community Action Council Head Start and Early Head Start programs serve more than 700 children in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mason counties.

The Head Start Programs provide parents and children, from birth to 5, with the skills they need to begin their school career. These programs foster a positive learning environment to encourage children’s growth and development in the areas of early learning, health and family well-being.

The group’s grant is part of $14,443,862 for Head Start programs across West Virginia. This funding was made available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Head Start Emergency Supplemental grants that were allocated in the year-end funding package to support early childhood education and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a release from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Southwestern’s Head Start program has proven success. Despite shutting down for the pandemic, early testing of the 2019-20 school year shows students improved between 30 and 60% in areas like emotional skill development and literacy, according to the program’s annual report.

The grant announcement came from Manchin, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va.

“Early education is essential for a bright future, but many children across America have fallen behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must work to ensure every West Virginia child has access to a quality education, and our Head Start programs provide children with the skills and foundation they need to succeed,” Manchin said.

“Investing in the youth of our state is an investment into the future of our state, and this annual support from HHS will help maintain the support that our children in West Virginia need. I’m thankful for the role that Head Start plays in preparing children across our state for the future,” Capito said.

“As we work to recover from COVID-19 and revitalize our economy, we must focus on our youngest citizens and provide them all the resources available for a successful future. I applaud HHS for its investment in West Virginia’s next generation,” Miller said.

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