Not enough demand for Bithlo Head Start means empty classroom

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BITHLO, Fla. —

WFTV learned an Orange County Head Start classroom in Bithlo will sit empty this school year, even though there are hundreds of children living in poverty in the community.

For the past two years, Head Start filled the empty classroom by busing students from the East Orange location on East Colonial Drive to the Bithlo Center on Washington Avenue.

Bithlo parents said they want the classroom filled with kids from the community.

There are 785 children under age 5 in Bithlo, and 117 of them live in homes that are below the federal poverty level.

Yet there are only 40 Bithlo children enrolled in Head Start this year.

Tonya Watne said Head Start told her there was no more room for her 4-year-old son.

"There are more people on the waiting list than space available," Watne said.

Even though parents are being turned away from the Bithlo Head Start center, one whole classroom is going to be empty.

"I'm thinking if they had the other classroom, there wouldn't have been this problem," Watne said.

Orange County director of family services, Lonnie Bell, said the reason the classroom is closed is because there aren't enough people on a waiting list to fill it.

"There is not a high enough demand on our books right now to generate a third classroom with Bithlo residents," Bell said.

Bithlo advocate Tim McKinney believes many parents simply don't know about Head Start and said the need is there.

"There's obviously a disconnect between the leader of the Head Start and Bithlo and the community of Bithlo," McKinney said.

"We're open to that conversation, because we certainly want those children to have the same benefits that others do in the community," Bell said.

It's all that Watne said she wants for her little boy.

"The building block for everything is education," Watne said.