Nearly 200 staff, supporters and officials gathered at the former Dodson Elementary School Wednesday afternoon to celebrate its reopening — not as a traditional school, but as the home for a new Head Start early learning program.

The Prime Time Head Start program is a state initiative to provide high quality early learning for children as early as possible. There are even programs for expectant mothers so that they can learn how to best handle a new child. Starting at six weeks old, there are programs available for the children themselves until they turn 5 years old and are ready for “big school.”

Janice Wade, a New Iberia native who has served as an associate dean at Bethune-Cookman College, wanted to return to her hometown. Taking over the Prime Time Head Start initiative for Lafayette and Iberia parishes was the perfect opportunity for her to do just that.

“I will do my best to serve,” Wade said between greeting old friends prior to the official ribbon cutting.

Miranda Restovic, president and executive director for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, which is the reporting agency for the Prime Time project, said that the program at Dodson, as well as a planned facility in Jeanerette and another underway in Lafayette, helps to make the best use of the most impressionable years in a child’s development.

“What we do sets the stage for the rest of their lives,” Restovic said.

The staff of the school is primarily made up of educators, some retired, others not, who bring years of experience to the table.

The program actually saw its soft launch late last year as a virtual program. It started accepting in-person students in March.

By 2022, the Head Start program at Dodson is expected to host 189 students. Overall, Wade will be responsible for 747 students across the two parishes.

Iberia Parish School Superintendent Carey Laviolette said she is excited to see what the program can do and is committed to seeing it succeed.

“I don’t want to stop the dream,” Laviolette said. “It’s a very good thing you are doing here.”

Dwayne Fatherree is the community editor for The Daily Iberian. He can be reached at

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