PACT’s Head Start program helping kids get jump start in school

  • George Carpenter-Rivera plays at PACT Head Start. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Lilica Ashioda plays in the yard at PACT Head Start. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Anela Gorloff, left, and Cynthia Gomes play in the yard at PACT Head Start. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Timothy Michael and Janelle Gomes read to their keiki Elden and Cynthia at PACT Head Start. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HOLUALOA — Elden Gomes is one step away from the great, big kid world of kindergarten. As he prepares to go on to the next stage of life, his parents are thankful for the help Elden has had through his preschool journey.

“My son went from knowing colors, that’s it, and now he knows his alphabet, and he can write his name,” Elden’s mother Janelle Gomes said. “He’s learned to get along with other children, and how to deal with kiddie issues that come up. He learned a lot about socializing. And they’re working on numbers in math right now.”

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Elden, along with his 3-year-old sister Cynthia, is learning these life skills as a student at Parents and Children Together (PACT) Head Start Preschool in Holualoa.

The PACT preschools around the Big Island and Hawaii aim to provide safe environments where children with special needs or from low-income families can receive the education needed for them to be successful in elementary school and beyond.

“I love the fact that the school kind of goes with their learning style,” Janelle Gomes said. “The teachers are amazing with the kids. Some of the kids have behavioral issues, learning issues, and their own way of doing things, and the teachers really help with all that. They teach them different things to get them to learn different ways.”

Gomes and her husband, Michael, also have an older daughter, Caira, who began her education at PACT Head Start. Now 22, Caira is about to start a job in the health care industry at the North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.

“I highly recommend it,” Janelle Gomes said of the school. “If you have little kids, they start at 3, and the more exposure they get to education, I really think it benefits them. I see my son, and he has just blossomed with his education.”

Janelle and Michael Gomes are coffee farmers, and when they’re not working on their farm, they come down to the school to help the teachers with activities such as reading to the children or creating craft projects with them.

“My kids are here five days a week, and we try to come down at least once a week to do stuff,” Janelle Gomes said. “We run a coffee farm so we’re not always around, so we try to do it as much as possible to be here for the kids. Because the more involved the parents are, the more it helps with their education, I think.”

Janelle Gomes said the school meets with the parents before their children start attending so the teachers can cater their curriculum to what the parents want to see their children improve in the most. For the Gomes family, they asked that Cynthia learn to write her name before the end of the year, and Janelle Gomes said she’s close to that goal.

PACT Head Start also holds monthly parent meetings, where parents can meet and learn how they can get involved with the school and their child’s education.

“It’s flexible, so that’s what’s giving me the chance to come in and actually be involved in my children’s education,” Janelle Gomes said. “And that means a lot to me and my husband.”

On one afternoon in April, Janelle and Michael Gomes assisted their children’s teacher, Trisha Puou, by creating crafts for Easter and alternating storytime before lunch was served.

“I would 100 percent recommend this school.” Michael Gomes said. “The staff is very caring and the children have a lot of activities and they learn so much.”

Puou has been teaching at PACT Head Start for 16 years. She said she recently had her first former student graduate high school, which she said was both heartwarming, and a reality check about graduation rates.

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She remains an optimist, though, when it comes to her students.

“I like being able to give back to the community,” Puou said. “This was actually one of my goals when I was very little, to come back to Kona and give back. And this is the best way to give back because they are sponges. So I can teach them the values that I think they need in society.”

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