Over a year after a devastating fire destroyed its home on North Nunes Road, the Keyes Head Start Program has risen from the ashes.
The preschool center has served the Keyes and surrounding communities since 2003, but on April 9, 2016, tragedy struck. The program lost two classrooms and office space after flames tore through its building, and since then operated from a different spot on the Keyes Elementary School campus.
"It was a very tragic experience for everyone, for all the staff that has worked here," said Program Director Brandy McCormick, who has worked at the center since its start. "You have 15 years' worth of your life in one place, and then it's gone. To see the looks on the kids' faces when they realized their school wasn't there anymore was hard."
The program was able to overcome the losses that came as a result of the fire thanks to help from the community and the Keyes Union School District, said McCormick, who ensured students still had materials to use as they continued the rest of the school year with a home-based teaching model. The school district provided the program with a classroom to use the following school year, but now Keyes Head Start has a home once again.
On Monday, the program celebrated new beginnings with an open house in their newly-constructed building on the same property as before, 4621 N. Nunes Road. While the location of the new building may be the same, skylights in the roof provide additional natural light, and more space outside of the building now allows for students to participate in what McCormick describes as an "outdoor classroom," where learning is brought outdoors.
Tuesday was the first day of school, and it went off without a hitch.
"You could just see the smiles on everyone's faces...everyone feels like they're back home," said McCormick. "We had quite a few children who were with us last year, and so to come back to the new center where they have their own playground...they were excited. The smiles on everyone's faces were priceless."
Since its start, the Keyes Head Start Program has grown from teaching 40 preschool children to servicing 82 families, including pregnant mothers and children up to the age of five. Children are taught based on a social foundation, and learn to socially engage with their peers and problem solve - two critical lessons that prepare students for the rest of the educational journeys, said McCormick.
"The whole basis of education is giving them that social foundation so that they can succeed, problem solve and work with each other. That sets the groundwork for later learning," she said.
McCormick is excited to see the Keyes Head Start staff and students benefit from the school's opportunity to continue providing these stepping stones for students at its new location.
"To walk in and be back...it was just a breath of fresh air. Through all this, to see how the staff has pulled together...we are the whole sense of team," she said. "I don't have any more words. It's just a really good feeling."
The Keyes Head Start Program is continually accepting applications, and currently has available slots for the infant/toddler home-based program. For more information, call the preschool center at 656-2388.