Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield Head Start (HCS Head Start) is an area leader in providing early education teachers with professional development. Recently they held a day-long training for over two hundred team members at the Sheraton Springfield. The day included breakout sessions on various topics vital in the rapidly evolving world of early education and a remarkable Keynote Speaker, Dr. Latoya Bosworth, who shared about Selfullness – the importance of self care. This gathering of colleagues was also the ideal setting to announce the first ever recipient of The Janis Santos Scholarship.

The Janis Santos Scholarship was created by Janis Santos, former CEO of HCS Head Start and resident of Ludlow, Mass. Ms. Santos is an avid supporter of early education for children and families. Her calling began when she became very involved in her own children’s kindergarten experience. She wanted to be a teacher herself and fell in love with pre-school. Going back to school at age 32, she earned her Early Childhood Education from University of Massachusetts and went on to spend the remainder of her career making sure no one thought early education was just daycare.

The objective of the scholarship she created is to help address the early childhood teacher shortage. As a fierce advocate for the profession, it was established to support current HCS staff, parents, and all Head Start alumni, who are pursuing a degree in early education and care but may be encountering financial hardship.

Ms. Santos was pleased to attend the professional development event and to personally be able to award the $2,000 scholarship to HCS Head Start’s Mayra Felix. This scholarship will allow Ms. Felix the chance to realize her dream of completing her bachelor’s degree.

“I started taking courses in 1996 and had to stop in 2005. Two years ago I decided to go back to school and that is when I realized how expensive it is, but I knew this time I wanted to finish,” shared Ms. Felix. “That is why I applied for the Janis Santos Scholarship, even though I knew many people had applied, it was an opportunity I knew I could not pass up.”

Ms. Felix, now a teacher, actually began as a Head Start student herself. She realized at an early age the difference a good teacher could make in the life of a child. Facing adversity after losing her father young, she faced challenges in school, and along the way did not always receive needed support. She vowed one day to help others in a meaningful way, choosing to do so in the medical profession, she obtained her Associate Degree in Medical Assistance, before deciding to leave Puerto Rico to come to Western Massachusetts.

With a then pre-school aged son (her children are now 36, 29, and 26 years old) and a lack of English skills, she looked no further than Head Start to help educate her son. She enrolled him and ironically ended up also enrolling herself, taking the little chair beside him in class and mastering the basics of English. Language was not where her learning stopped though, as she quickly realized teaching was her true passion. She began volunteering at HCS Head Start in 1992 and later that year, in November, received her first paid position. With evolving roles over the years, she is currently a Teacher Director (TD) and looks forward to growing within the organization as she advances her education.

“I want to be a different kind of teacher,” she exclaimed. “I want to be the best teacher I can be. And for me, being at Head Start allows me to be surrounded by many different teachers, giving me the chance to learn from all of them because they all show me something different. I am just so passionate about these kids. Thank you to Janis Santos for this acknowledgement. Like any dedicated student, I will make you proud and pay it forward.”

Ms. Felix is a resident of Chicopee, Mass. and is currently enrolled at Springfield College working towards her bachelor’s degree.

Through the generous donations of many sponsors, the Janis Santos Scholarship $2,000 award will be given out on an annual basis. All current HCS Head Start employees, parents, and all Head Start alumni (parents, children) pursuing a career in early education and care are eligible to apply. The next application date will be announced soon online at hcsheadstart.org.

Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield Head Start has been providing high-quality early childhood education services for children and families in cities and towns located in Western Massachusetts since 1965. They are committed to providing low-income children and their families with a source of support for a brighter future. They strive to do so by providing high quality comprehensive child development services to enrolled children and empowering families to achieve stability in their home environment.

By Published On: February 8, 2024Categories: Community Calendar

About the Author: GUEST WRITER

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