FLINT, Mich. (AP) — The University of Michigan-Flint's early childhood education program will be offered for free to more Flint families amid the city's crisis with lead-tainted water, officials said Monday.
The program is ideal for lead-exposed children in part because of the emphasis on providing healthy food to students every two hours, Michigan-Flint early education teacher Starletta Rett-Henry said during a news conference at Holmes STEM Academy. Lead can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities and health problems in children.
"One thing that we do know about lead exposure is that having your bellies filled with fresh fruits and vegetables helps to deter or mitigate the lead," Rett-Henry said.
The new early education offering at Holmes is called the Great Expectations Early Childhood Program. The university and the Flint public school district said the program offers the same teaching methods used at the university's on-campus Early Childhood Development Center, which has a waiting list of more than 300 children.
Bilal Tawwab, the superintendent of Flint Community Schools, said Great Expectations will initially accommodate up to 48 children.
"We now have 20 children enrolled and plan to open our third and final classroom at Holmes STEM Academy on May 23," Tawwab said, adding that discussions are underway to expand the program within the district later this year to include birth to kindergarten and space for up to 250 children.
Ashley Smith said she's thrilled at the progress her 4-year-old daughter, Tionna Nelson, has made in the brief time she has been enrolled in the program.
"I have to bribe her to come home at the end of the day. She does not want to leave," Smith said.
Great Expectations runs all year, including during the summer when school is not in session, and its hours of operation extend beyond the traditional school day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
University of Michigan-Flint's Early Childhood Development Center: https://www.umflint.edu/ecdc