Heartland Early Education has seen tremendous growth since it was chartered in 1989 (then called Salina Head Start).  It has grown from one classroom serving 36 children in one county to 24 classrooms serving 399 Head Start children in three counties. 

In addition another 96 At-Risk preschool children and 75 Parents as Teachers (PAT) families are served in Saline County.


USD 305 applied for and received funds to continue the Preschool-Aged At-Risk program. We also received Kansas Preschool Pilot (KPP) funds to enhance our state funded four-year-old program. We combined staffing and resources with CKCIE in order to serve children with special needs and at-risk four year-olds in Integrated Preschool classrooms. By doing this, we have created a true peer model concept and are serving more children. We are currently in five elementary schools, Hageman and Heartland Early Education.

The Abilene office and support staff moved into a new office in December. The building is shared with the Cedar House Greenhouse. The office is located at 307 NE 14th and is more suitable to our needs.

Early childhood district meetings began in 2019 with the intent of establishing better connections with district personnel and kindergarten staff. Meetings began with a visioning focus but didn’t get much farther than that due to COVID-19. Meetings will start back up in the next school year.

Heartland expanded the mental health department and added another therapist.

In March 2020, it became necessary for schools to shut down for the duration of the school year due to the coronavirus. This disruption was monumental and unprecedented. As a result, family consultants continued home visits virtually, classroom staff set up private Facebook pages and offered 15-30 minute educational experiences until school officially ended in May. Staff worked from home.

  • CARES Act funding became available and we received close to $420,000 for thermometers, gloves, cleaning supplies, increased technology, hot spots, materials for learning packets and porch visits along with salaries for summer school staff.
  •  We conducted a five-week summer school for the four year-olds going to kindergarten but who missed out on the last half of school, June 15 through July 16.


One of Heartland’s State Pre-K classrooms was relocated to Oakdale Elementary School for the 2018-19 school year.

KPREP therapeutic preschool program was implemented through a partnership between CKCIE, CKMHC, USD305 and Heartland Early Education. K-Prep serves up to eight "at risk" four year-olds who have been excluded from a regular preschool or childcare setting because of emotional or behavioral problems. It is an intensive treatment program with an education component. This program will help children identify and begin to change unsuccessful behavior patterns and attitudes before returning to a regular preschool setting.

Renovation was completed in the EHS Center-Based wing to add three new offices.

Teachers began reporting an increasing number of children coming to school hungry on Mondays. Since the Food4Kids backpack program was not available for PreK students, Heartland started a weekend food bag program using non-federal dollars. Food is packed on Wednesdays and is distributed to families to take home for their children on the weekends.

Heartland began quarterly community “Teddy Bear Tours” in April to educate the Salina business and service community about Heartland’s Early Education services to children and their families. The focus is to increase awareness, collaboration, volunteerism and to generate in-kind.

A “sensory path” was added to one of our hallways after spring break and is a new trend in education. This has been well received and is used for children with abundant energy and who may struggle to calm down. It provides sensory input, promotes calm and helps children organize their bodies.

We added a 4th bus route to better serve our children with special needs.

New luxury vinyl tile (LVT) replaced old tile in four SDSY classrooms.

We continue our efforts with our children and families by strengthening our transitions to kindergarten. Family consultants attended kindergarten round-ups in order to greet the Heartland families and help them feel comfortable as they get accustomed to their new setting. We also coordinated with Cottonwood, Oakdale, Schilling and Sunset to schedule kindergarten visits; these visits were special and was another way to help our four year-olds get a feel of what kindergarten looks like.


Heartland applied for and received duration funding allowing us to serve children five days per week for longer hours. During the summer of 2017, Heartland converted two Part Day School Year (PDSY) classrooms into four School Day School Year (SDSY) classrooms. Analysis of the SDSY program option has shown higher enrollment retention than the PDSY classrooms.

Local artist, Katy England, created multiple mosaic pieces from sculptures made by children and members of the Salina community with Mr. Imagination. The art is a tribute to Mr. Imagination’s love of children. 

In (2017) the Cornerstone collaboration with Ashby House ended due to the inability to staff the location.

Three Heartland parents and a family consultant attended a parent leadership conference in Washington DC in September along with over 500 Head Start parents across the United States. The parents spent time on Capitol Hill, meeting with state representatives and lobbyists.

Heartland received an invitation from the Office of Head Start (OHS) to travel to Washington DC in March to participate in a Listening Session. Becky Donelan and Rachel Johnson represented our program in Washington D.C. Twelve programs were selected from over 2,000 programs across the United States. The purpose was to learn how local programs prepare children for success in school. 


A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on August 25 to celebrate the completion of new construction/renovations due to the passing of the School Bond in 2014.

New Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) were released in September 2016 offering programs more flexibility to meet the needs of eligible children and families in unique communities across the United States.

In October of 2016, the infant/toddler classroom at Cornerstone closed.

There was more focus on kindergarten transitions and Heartland staff alongside district staff worked to improve the cumulative folder process as well as continue to prepare our four year-olds for the next setting. A luncheon, hosted by Heartland, was held on October 24 with the intent of bringing kindergarten and preschool teachers together to collaborate and share ideas.

A marketing committee was established in order to bring more awareness of our program to the communities we serve.

  • We re-branded and changed from Heartland Programs to Heartland Early Education.
  • Our mission statement was changed and simplified and reads: "Heartland Early Education's mission is to inspire and empower children and families through quality education."
  • We also made the decision to participate in area parades to "get our name out there" but to also recruit eligible families who may not know about our services.
  • A "reader of the month" program was implemented at the Salina site; local officials and state legislators were invited to participate; we enjoyed a great response and turn out.

Parents as Teachers (PAT) was impacted by changes in the funding stream which negatively affected enrollment numbers.

The long-standing grant with the Saline County Health Department ended on June 30, 2017. We ended the grant with one Health Department Family Consultant but were able to add this position to our budget.

Renovations to a classroom space and a new children's restroom occurred during the summer months as a result of federal funds being available to increase hours of operation for the preschool classrooms. This change in duration will occur in three phases.


The Building Blocks Therapeutic Preschool services ended in May 2016. Heartland Programs and Central Kansas Mental Health Center (CKCMH) are committed to doing what is best for children and families. Conversations will continue in order to determine the top priorities and how identified needs will best be met.

Adult ESL classes and ESL child care, provided by Heartland Programs and the Salina Adult Education Center ended at the end of the 2015-2016 school year due to a decrease in enrollment. Heartland staff will continue to encourage families to enroll but services will be provided at the Salina Adult Education Center beginning August 2016.

Due to the lack of eligible families in the area, Heartland ended their partnership with Herington USD #487 and Discovery Child Care Learning Center. The partnership with Herington USD #487 provided part-day Head Start services to thirteen children. The partnership with DCCLC provided child care services to three children in 2016. Head Start enrollment will be reduced by 13 effective July 1, 2016.

In April of 2014, Salina voters approved a $110.7 million bond issue. The bond addressed district needs including safety and security, all-day kindergarten, career and technical education and improvements at high schools. Construction began at Heartland in July 2015, and was completed in July 2016.

  • The HELP Center was constructed at the Heartland site, providing two new infant/toddler classrooms, an office/observation room, a new infant/toddler playground and a laundry/utility room. Parenting teens attending Salina Central, Salina South, Salina West and Sacred Heart High Schools began receiving child care services at the Heartland building in August 2016.
  • Two newly constructed storm shelters allow safety and security in the event of severe weather.
  • Office entry renovations were completed, allowing a secure entrance to the Heartland building. In conjunction with bond construction, Head Start funding was used to renovate the front office, providing a new work area, conference room and increased the size of three existing offices.


In May of 2014, the Enterprise classroom renovated with new cabinetry.

Many hours of discussion and contemplation occurred when we received notice that funds would be restored from last year's sequestration cuts (aka Sequestration Restoration) along with a COLA increase. Guidance from the Office of Head Start stated the Head Start programs were to restore funds as closely as possible to cuts made the previous year.

Restoration of all 3 full day/full year classrooms was not possible due to additional expenditures caused by sequestration. Decisions were made to restore one classroom to full day/full year at Cornerstone, our partnership with Salina's homeless shelter (Ashby House). When sequestration cuts were made, this partnership was affected due to this classrooms being moved to school year only; we also moved the EHS classroom to a home provider. In essence, with sequestration cuts, we were only able to support Ashby House and homeless families with young children nine months out of twelve. With the restoration of these funds, we will restore this partnership back to the initial agreement.

In addition, we were able to restore one building assistant position, one home-based family consultant and six EHS home-based slots.

A toddler classroom was implemented at the Salina Kennedy site to accommodate the infant/toddler slots that were no longer available in home provider sites. Also, due to a shortage of qualified teaching applicants, Heartland decreased Head Start classrooms in the Salina Kennedy building from eight to seven. No Head Start slots were eliminated. Each of the seven classrooms increased from thirteen children per session to 15 children per session. One additional part-year building assistant was added.

In April of 2014, Salina voters approved a $110.7 million bond issue. The bond addressed district needs including safety and security, all-day kindergarten, career and technical education and improvements at high schools.

Improvements planned for Heartland Programs are as follows and will begin construction in 2015.

  • HELP Center - new location constructed at Heartland Kennedy site
  • Two storm shelters constructed at Kennedy site
  • Office entry renovations to allow for controlled entry
  • CKCIE preschool classroom moved from Kennedy to Hageman as of May 2014

The Groundbreaking Ceremony was held on June 24, 2015.

In January 2015, Heartland Programs continued a partnership with United Methodist Health Ministries extending mental health services with a 2 year grant. The grant amount was reduced from $150,000 to $65,000 and will continue to provide mental health services community-wide.


Lesa Larson became Heartland Programs Director July 1, 2013.

Due to sequestration, Head Start received a 5.27% cut for the 2013-14 year. As a result, three Salina Head Start child care classrooms were changed from full day/full year to part day/part year classrooms and eliminated one EHS family consultant position and several building para positions. To meet community needs we decided to add four additional EHS child care slots. A total of $226,000 was cut from the budget starting July 1, 2013.


In the spring of 2013, Heartland Programs was notified that Sequestration was eminent. Sequestration will require all federal non-discretionary programs to make cuts across the board. Head Start began planning for a 5.27% cut for the upcoming year.

In January of 2013, Heartland Programs partnered with United Methodist Health Ministry and received a 2 year grant in the amount of $150,000. The grant provided funding for community-wide mental health services.

Korey Hensley, Heartland Program Director, retired after 24 years of service.


In January of 2011, Heartland opened Cornerstone child care center through collaboration with Ashby House homeless shelter. Four infants and toddlers were added to our enrollment through funding from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA-commonly known as 'stimulus'). Fifteen preschoolers were also moved to this facility for full year, full day child care.

In August of 2011, the Herington Little Railers' (Head Start/Kansas Preschool) Preschool was moved to the newly constructed Herington Elementary school.


In October of 2010, Heartland opened a new addition to the Salina Heartland building. Three classrooms, four offices, a conference room, two observation rooms and a laundry were added. Twenty-four additional infants and toddlers were added to our enrollment through a grant provided through ARRA.

After a CKCIE (Central Kansas Cooperative in Education) classroom in the Salina Heartland building was moved into an elementary school, an additional Head Start classroom was established serving 30 preschoolers. Funding was provided through an ARRA grant.

The older Head Start classrooms in Salina were renovated with new sinks, faucets and counter tops.


Dickinson County office moved into the old SRS facility at 505 NW 3rd in Abilene.

The old Evaluation Team offices were renovated to make a child care room for parents enrolled in the ESL classes. Adult enrollment exploded with a morning and afternoon session available for parents.


Heartland Programs and the Herington School District collaborated to start the Little Railers Preschool by combining Head Start children and the district's newly funded At-Risk Preschool children. The thirty children were served in a double session classroom.


The front entry to the Heartland building in Salina was remodeled.

The second side of the Heartland Early Learning Program (HELP) modular building was opened to provide additional child care slots for high school students. Heartland expanded the At-Risk preschool enrollment to add a double session for children at Schilling Elementary School.


The USD #305 Parents as Teachers program was added to Heartland Programs, serving up to 175 children and families throughout the year.


In the spring of 2004, Heartland Programs celebrated our 10 year anniversary as "Heartland Programs". Old windows and glass block exterior walls were replaced in the old part of the Heartland building in Salina and the classrooms received new cabinets.


Grand Avenue Methodist Church and Sunrise Presbyterian Church classrooms were relocated to the Heartland building in October. The HELP (Heartland Early Learning Program) infant/toddler center opened in August on the campus of Central High School.

In October, the Heartland Adult Literacy program started offering ESL classes to parents of Head Start students. GED classes began in January 2003. Renovations of the Adult Literacy classroom and the front office were completed in the summer of 2003.


We broke ground on the new wing in the Salina Heartland Programs building. The new wing included four new classrooms, larger kitchen facilities and a multipurpose room. Renovation also started on a modular building to use for infants and toddlers on the Salina Central High School Campus. In addition we expanded home based Early Head Start by an additional 15 children.


In May 2001, Heartland Programs received an expansion grant to add another 45 children in Saline County. Because no school district space was available, Grand Avenue United Methodist Church agreed to house the two full-day, full-year classrooms for 30 children. An additional 15 children were added to child care partnership programs.


Heartland Programs received funds to expand the Kansas Early Head Start program to add 31 - three year olds in partnering child care centers and family child care homes. Heartland also received funding from the State Department of Education to offer At-Risk Preschool. Sunrise Presbyterian Churched opened their doors to host a location for our new classroom for 30 children.


Heartland Programs received a Kansas Early Head Start grant to serve 53 additional families in Saline, Dickinson, and Ellsworth counties. Salina renovated the multi-purpose room and the parent room to add offices and expand the kitchen.

Ellsworth completed construction on a new building that served 15 children. Dickinson County opened an office in the Sunflower Building in Abilene. The program now served over 470 children, ages 0-5 in Saline, Dickinson, and Ellsworth counties.


We received another competitive grant to start Heartland Child Care Partnerships which collaborated with child care centers in Saline and Dickinson County. We renovated the Salina Heartland building to add a kitchen for children on site. Head Start enrollment was 262 and Early Head Start enrollment at 75. With collaborations, over 420 children, ages 0-5 were enrolled.


In July 1997, Heartland Healthy Families moved into the newly built wing of the Salina Heartland building. The new wing included seven offices, a program room, socialization room, restroom and playground facilities.


Heartland Programs was in the First Wave of programs across the nation to win a new competitive grant to provide Early Head Start (EHS) services in Saline County. Facility funding and funding for 75 home based children was provided. In January 1996, Heartland Healthy Families, a collaboration between the Salina-Saline County Health Department and Early Head Start, begins serving families.

We added air conditioning to all the Heartland classrooms and offices.


The Head Start classrooms at Hawthorne, Parsons and Schilling moved to the Kennedy School along with the Kids Connection classes from Parsons and Schilling schools. Heartland Early Education Program, a collaboration with CKCIE was born. The program provided an inclusive environment for all preschool children with disabilities in Saline County.

A school day program was started at Enterprise, Chapman School District, in the modular building that was built on the campus of the Enterprise Elementary School. We also received funding to increase enrollment in Salina with an additional 17 children and to expand into Herington, Dickinson County and into Ellsworth County.

We received funding for a modular building in Herington and started a classroom in the Geneseo Elementary School to serve Ellsworth County.

In Salina, three large rooms were renovated into offices for the Family Consultants, Coordinators and the Evaluation Team.


Heartland received funding to double the number of children at the Schilling Elementary School. We also received funding to move into Dickinson County. We started a double session classroom in the Kennedy Elementary School in Abilene and received funding to purchase a modular building to expand into the Chapman School District.


We were funded for an additional single session classroom that was located at Schilling Elementary School in Salina. The Head Start office moved to the CKCIE building which was next to the Schilling Elementary School.


Salina Head Start received a grant to add additional children to the Parson's site and enrollment grew to a total of 72 children.


Salina Head Start received a grant to expand into the old Parson's School in Salina. Seventeen additional children were served.


Salina Head Start opened their doors in July 1989. The classroom and office were housed at Hawthorne School in Salina. The program served 36 children.

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