LAKE PLACID In a busy classroom on Wednesday, 5-year-old Shamiyak Dobson-Armstrong worked on homework, while Marely Ibarr-Bautista, 4, who sat near Shamiyak, created a drawing for her mother.
Nearby at an art center in the room, a student had created art showing a lady bug and flowers.
Those children are among 74 students at the South Highlands Child Development Center, which is run by the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. Beginning this year, that Head Start Program, as well as one in Sebring serving 32 children, will cut hours because of federal budget cuts resulting from sequestration.
Sonja Judge-Wilson, center coordinator, said those cuts will be problematic for parents, who are low-income and will be forced to pay for child care that they really can’t afford. The reduced hours also will make it more difficult for the parents to provide transportation home for their children, she said.
Those parents also tend to be selective in with whom they are comfortable in leaving their children, she said.
“We serve the neediest of the neediest,” said Karen Lowe, mentor teacher.
Bill Coats, director of communications and marketing, said the cuts couldn’t be avoided after the sequester forced a reduction of $1.6 million in spending, statewide.
The cuts will force the two Head Start centers in Sebring and Lake Placid to close for much of the summer, beginning June 30 until the reopening of school on Aug. 19, he said.
Previously, those programs remained open during the summer, Coats said.
Hilaria Cuevas, area coordinator, said next year the programs will likely close in May and not open until August. This year the programs could remain open until June 30 because the funding is from this year’s budget, which was not affected by the sequestration.
During the times when those centers are open, the hours will be cut, beginning in August, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Coats said.
That leaves in question the services that will be provided to some of the 30 children with disabilities attending the center, Cuevas said. Some remain in the public school until 2 p.m., she added.
While that 2 p.m. closure would hurt the students, it also makes it more difficult for parents who normally work at that time, she said.
Efforts are underway to extend that 2 p.m. closing, but whether funding can be obtained to keep the center open to 5 p.m. remains questionable, she said.
Coats said a separate program, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, will close May 31, two weeks earlier than the scheduled closing June 14. In Highlands County, that will affect one classroom in Lake Placid.
At the child development, children continued with activities, oblivious to the impending cuts.
Lowe said that the program uses an active learning curriculum where students learn by doing with real objects “that mean something to them.” The children learn vocabulary, how to write and draw and how to care for themselves, among other things, she said.
They also learn math and science and skills needed to work together with others, Lowe said.