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New AIU Head Start Classroom, Strategy Take Shape

The whine of drills and pounding of nails inside a corner of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s central office in Homestead will soon be replaced by the laughter of children and the lessons imparted by teachers. The space is being developed into a Head Start classroom for Allegheny County children ages three to four.

“The Head Start classroom will keep our mission and vision alive in a visceral way at Central Office,” said Wendy Smith, Director of Early Childhood, Family, and Community Services, the AIU division that oversees Head Start. “This program serves some of our most vulnerable families, both advocating for and advancing equitable learning opportunities for preschoolers and holistic supports for their parents.”

The new classroom will service more than a dozen preschool-age children, according to Shannon McGee, Program Director of Early Childhood Education Services. Both she and Smith believe the classroom will be a vital training ground.

“By being in that space, teachers can get some of that on-the-ground experience and do some intentional training for the positions,” said McGee. “It is critical that we continue to train and develop future generations of teaching talent.”

Smith also recognizes the importance of interdepartmental cooperation as this classroom comes online, especially within her own division.

“Through close partnerships with Preschool Early Intervention, the classroom will be a place where more seasoned staff can practice and see how to implement strategies to support children with differing abilities,” said Smith. 

“Post-COVID, we are seeing increased numbers of children in our classrooms with differing abilities, and this will provide a way to train staff to implement those best practices in their classrooms.”

While the space for this new classroom still shows its metal skeleton, in a few short months it will be filled with colorful walls, chairs and desks. When it comes to classroom design, Smith and the entire AIU team is focusing on the practicality of teachers’ present needs.

“The classroom will be designed to be similar to the classrooms in the field so that teachers who are in training will have access to the same types of supplies and materials in their own classrooms,” said Smith. “ For me, the most exciting part is simply that some of our most vulnerable children and families will directly benefit from services at the AIU and that our staff will be able to get the training and support they need to help them succeed."