As politicians in Washington debate how much money to cut from the Head Start preschool program - as if they were cutting butter from batter and expecting cake anyway - 16 of the kids in that program Tuesday morning built a model city.
Students in the class run by teachers Potressa Lynn and Tomisha Ford built banks and police stations and fire departments, and schools and houses and hospitals - and not a single jail.
They built out of shoe boxes and construction paper and glue and their own brains. They did it to learn about community and teamwork.
The parents or grandparents or even aunts and uncles, if parents could not get off work, of every one of those 16 kids came in and helped.
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"Nothing is more important than my son," said Calvin McCullough, of 4-year-old Lamech. McCullough even missed some work to be there, but said it was time well spent. He will work extra to make up for it.
Since 1965, Head Start has taught millions of American kids from low-income families what they need to get ready for kindergarten.
More than 100 kids are in the Rock Hill Head Start program. Thousands of kids in York, Chester and Lancaster counties during the past four-plus decades have gone through Head Start programs.
But federal budget cuts being debated in Congress could slash 15 percent or more of the money that pays for Head Start programs, administered locally by Carolina Community Actions.
Some politicians want to cut even deeper.
Ann Cain, who taught first grade for more than 30 years in Rock Hill schools, then taught a generation of budding teachers at Winthrop as an education professor, said cutting Head Start would be a mistake.
Retired at age 78 - yet still coordinating Head Start's education programs in five area counties - Cain said Head Start continues to be a boon to children and families and to the future of communities.
"The investment in children is an investment in the future of the individual and the community, our state and our nation," Cain said. "These kids are learning skills they need to get ready to succeed in school. This is not day care.
"Every child is here learning. This is education. This is our future, right here, these kids building a model city today with their parents."
Lynn and Ford came up with the model city as a way to bring parents into the educational fold. Parents helped with materials, came up with ideas, and the city grew Tuesday.
Keimonie Hemphill, her grandmother Doris and her great-grandmother Ruby, built a five-story hospital. Other kids and parents built and shared, discussing colors and shapes and what happens inside buildings in a community.
"Learning is what we are all about," said Lynn, the lead teacher.
Kaleb Adams, who just turned 5 and will head to kindergarten in the fall, built a police station.
"I want to be a policeman," he said.
"This is a great learning experience," said Yolanda Adams, Kaleb's mother.
Ford, the teaching assistant in the class, said the 16 students have all made gains in learning skills during the school year to prepare them for kindergarten.
"The whole idea is to prepare each child to learn," Ford said.
Yet there is no guarantee that all Head Start programs will endure if the federal budget is cut.
Parents, so many of them Tuesday, took time off from work to be there. Leroy Canty, with daughter T'Ari, took time off. So did mother Elexis Jones, with daughter A'Rya.
Both Canty and Jones said Head Start is a great program that has helped their children flourish.
Le'Anne Duffield, aunt of Wesley Duffield, who just turned 5, was at Head Start because Wesley's parents could not miss work.
"Our family knows Head Start works," Duffield said.
These kids, excited on Tuesday, have no lobbyists. They have no political committees. All they have is teachers - the Tomisha Fords and Potressa Lynns of the world - to help them.
Cain, the retired teacher and professor who taught thousands of kids and trained hundreds of teachers, watched the class of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds make that city Tuesday and described it as a success.
Not just the city that grew from shoe boxes and construction paper and paint and glue into something special, but the tiny minds doing the creating.
"Every child has the imagination, the ability," Cain said. "Head Start helps them find it, and unlock that door. On the other side of that door is a bright future without bounds.
"I can't imagine that door being shut."
Who they are
The Head Start class of Potressa Lynn and Tomisha Ford that built a model city Tuesday: Kaleb Adams, Chauncey Akers, Tiana Bennett, JyAzia Booker, Roman Bratton, T'Ari Canty, Wesley Duffield, Jada Grier, Bobby Hall, Keimonie Hemphill, Lamech McCullough, Jasmyne Mobley, Kierstin Russell, Jaden Stewart, A'Rya Thomas, and Aleyah Wall-Toms.