The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) is bringing a new Head Start facility to Unalaska. The new facility will replace the island’s existing Head Start building. Currently, the Head Start building can only hold about 10 students, aged three to five, due to social distancing mandates meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. The new building can accommodate programming for about six times as many kids.
Roughly 60 students will be able to enroll in the program at the new facility, according to Paula Pinder, the director of family and community development with APIA.
The project is years in the making and is being funded by the Office of Head Start, which awarded APIA's Head Start program a federal grant of $8.4 million dollars through the Administration for Children and Families, said Pinder.
Fully staffed, Pinder said APIA will employ about 10 people, as well as maintenance crew. The building will be a resource for community growth and career development as well, she said.
"We are also planning to offer internships to residents interested in child development, teaching or other careers that employment in the new facility could offer," she said.
Additionally, APIA is reaching out to universities to discuss dual enrollment programs for local teens that may want to work with the program.
"We want to really help build sustainable communities and have a positive impact," Pinder said. "And through this facility and a dual enrollment program, we can really do more to tap into the youth, encourage them to remain in the community and to pursue careers in childcare — there's also going to be maintenance. There's so many different support services that we're going to need."
Marie Schliebe is the lead teacher at Unalaska's Head Start, and has been working with the program for about 14 years, which she said has outgrown the current building. Having a bit more room will make a significant difference, she said.
"We can do a lot more large motor [work]," Schliebe said. "[We'll] be able to add more areas for science, construction, a bigger library area."
The new facility will be nearly 8,000 square feet and will have two separate Head Start rooms, a space for infants and toddlers, an indoor multi-purpose room, and an outdoor playground that will feature Alaska-themed toys.
The building will be located on Strawberry Hill off Biorka Drive and will sit above the tsunami line to provide an emergency evacuation center for the island. Construction is expected to begin soon and it should be finished by the end of October, according to Pinder.
APIA is also planning to display regional artwork in the new facility and is currently holding a contest asking for artwork from people of all ages in Alaska. All of the artwork from Head Start students will be put out for display, but only the top contestants will have their artwork featured in a more permanent display in the Head Start building.
For more information on the contest or to find out how to register for Head Start, visit APIA's website.