Starting this fall, preschoolers from Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls will no longer have a Head Start site of their own. 

Androscoggin Head Start and Child Care is shutting down the classroom at 14 Androscoggin Ave. in Mechanic Falls. The 42-year-old Head Start preschool program is one of the oldest in the state. It typically serves 18 children between the ages of 3 and 5. 

Executive Director Estelle Rubenstein said the site will close both because there are too few Head Start-eligible children in the area and because Androscoggin Head Start can’t afford to keep the program open. 

“It’s a sad day for us having to make that decision,” she said.

The Mechanic Falls classroom shut down for summer vacation. It will not reopen in the fall.

Although located in Mechanic Falls, the preschool program serves children throughout Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls. Many of the classroom’s children have graduated to kindergarten, but four were expected to return.

Those children have been offered spots at Head Start programs in Lewiston and Auburn, though families will have to find a way to get their children to the more distant classrooms. They have also been offered spots in Head Start’s Home Based Services program, which serves children from birth to age 5.

In that program a family educator visits the home for an hour-and-a-half every week, teaching parents how to teach their children. Families also gather twice a month for socialization.     

Three employees worked at the Mechanic Falls program. They have been offered jobs at other Head Start sites.

Rubinstein said Androscoggin Head Start’s annual community assessment showed there were too few children eligible for Head Start in the area, and many of those who were eligible attended the pre-k program hosted by the local public school system. At the same time, Androscoggin Head Start’s federal funding has remained flat for the last several years, forcing the program to make cuts as costs have risen. The addition of federal stimulus money helped short-term, but that money will soon disappear.

“We’ve been able to hang on as long as we have and reduce in other ways. But when that (stimulus money) ends, there’s no more. You’re at bare bones,” she said. “So you look at your community assessment and say ‘Where do we go? What makes sense in the services for the community, for the county?'”

Androscoggin Head Start will now have 17 classrooms at 11 sites. In the future, Head Start-eligible children in Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls may apply for spots in other area Head Start programs. For more information, call 795-4040, ext. 325.

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