About Us

Head Start promotes the school readiness of young children from low-income families through agencies in their local community. The Head Start program is authorized by the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 [PDF, 271KB].

Family members must apply with a program in their area.

The Program Locator can help you find the program nearest you.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs support the mental, social, and emotional development of children from birth to age 5. In addition to education services, programs provide children and their families with health, nutrition, social, and other services. Head Start services are responsive to each child and family's ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.

Head Start encourages the role of parents as their child's first and most important teachers. Programs build relationships with families that support positive parent-child relationships, family well-being, and connections to peers and community. Head Start began as a program for preschoolers. Three- and 4-year-olds made up over 80 percent of the children served by Head Start last year.

Early Head Start serves pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Early Head Start programs are available to the family until the child turns 3 years old and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program. Early Head Start helps families care for their infants and toddlers through early, continuous, intensive, and comprehensive services.

Local services are delivered by about 1,700 public and private nonprofit and for-profit agencies. These agencies receive grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Head Start agencies design services for children and families that meet the needs of their local community and the Head Start Program Performance Standards. Some cities, states, and federal programs offer funding to expand Head Start and Early Head Start to include more children within their communities.

Both Head Start and Early Head Start programs offer a variety of service models, depending on the needs of the local community. Programs may be based in centers, schools, or family child care homes. Early Head Start services are provided for at least six hours per day, whereas Head Start preschool services may be half-day (four hours) or full-day. Another program option is home-based services, in which a staff person visits children once a week in their own home and works with the parent as the child's primary teacher. Children and families who receive home-based services meet twice monthly with other enrolled families for a group learning experience facilitated by Head Start staff.

What Is School Readiness?

The Office of Head Start (OHS) defines school readiness as children being ready for school, families ready to support their children's learning, and schools ready for the children who enter their doors.

Children's school readiness is measured by the skills set out in the five domains of the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework:

  • Language and Literacy
  • Cognition and General Knowledge
  • Approaches to Learning
  • Physical Development and Health
  • Social and Emotional Development

Families are engaged in their children's learning and development and are poised to support the lifelong success of their child. Head Start recognizes that parents are their children's primary teachers and advocates.

As Head Start programs, parents, and schools work together to promote school readiness and engage families as their children make the transition to kindergarten, schools become ready for children. Learn more about school readiness.

What Are Comprehensive Services?

Head Start comprehensive services include:

  • Education
  • Screenings and follow-up for health, development, and behavior
  • Health and safety
  • Social and emotional health
  • Nutrition
  • Family goal-setting
  • Social services
  • Transition services
  • Services for children with disabilities

Comprehensive services are delivered in a learning environment that is individualized to support children's growth in the five essential domains. A minimum of 10 percent of a program's total enrollment must be children with disabilities. Additionally, Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child and family's ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.

How Many Children and Families Were Served in FY2013?

Over a million children are served by Head Start programs every year, including children in every U.S. state and territory and in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities.

In fiscal year (FY) 2013:

  • Head Start programs served 932,164 children and their families
  • Early Head Start programs served 150,100 children and 6,391 pregnant women and their families
  • Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS), which serves children from birth to age 5, served an additional 31,907 children
  • AIAN programs served 21,055 Head Start children, 4,240 Early Head Start children, and 482 pregnant women and their families

FY2013 includes services delivered Fall 2012 through Summer 2013.

Since 2004, OHS has produced Head Start fact sheets that summarize the funding given to agencies and services provided to children over the year. Read the Head Start fact sheets for more information.

What Head Start Research Is Conducted by HHS?

HHS commissions research to better understand the different variations in programs and to guide program improvement in both Head Start and Early Head Start. For example, Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) and Baby FACES provide a picture of children's development and academic readiness over their time in Head Start and Early Head Start. HHS also commissions shorter term studies such as the Head Start CARES project, which compared different curricula directed at social and emotional development. Read more about the research.

What Is the History of Head Start?

Head Start programs began in the summer of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Early Head Start was added in 1994. Head Start has served more than 30 million children since 1965, growing from an eight-week demonstration project to include full-day/full-year services and many program options. Read more about the history of Head Start.

About the Office of Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start are administered by the Office of Head Start (OHS), within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Ann Linehan is the acting director of OHS. She has held senior management positions with OHS for 15 years and has served as the deputy director since 2011.

Ann began her career as a special needs teacher for medically fragile children. She served nearly a decade as the executive director of a Massachusetts nonprofit agency that provided Head Start and child care services in eight communities. She holds undergraduate degrees in sociology and psychology and a master's in education from Boston State.

OHS administers grant funding and oversight to the agencies that provide Head Start services. They also provide federal policy direction and a training and technical assistance (T/TA) system to assist grantees in providing comprehensive services to eligible young children and their families.

Head Start was appropriated $7,573,095,000 for FY2013. $7,278,195,000 was awarded directly to public agencies, private nonprofit and for-profit organizations, tribal governments, and school systems to operate Head Start programs in local communities. $189,330,000 was directed to T/TA to improve the quality of services provided by grantees. Half that amount was awarded directly to grantees to be used for local T/TA, and the other half funded the national system. More details around OHS funding can be found in the FY2013 Fact Sheet.

OHS has 12 Regional Offices that support the administration of grants, oversight, and T/TA. These offices are located in Boston, MA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; San Francisco, CA; and Seattle, WA. The Regional Offices for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs are located in Washington, DC .

The priorities of OHS are to:

  • Ensure that all programs have school readiness goals around the five essential domains for all children birth to 5 in all program options.
  • Use child assessment and self-assessment data to track progress on the goals overtime.
  • Continue to implement a Designation Renewal System and a five year grant process that strengthens and supports comprehensive services, program management, governance, and fiscal operations.
  • Support all programs in meeting health and safety Program Performance Standards.
  • Implement a quality, responsive T/TA system.
  • Strengthen the early childhood workforce birth to 5.
  • Support implementation of the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement (PFCE) Framework and effective family engagement in programs and communities.
  • Support partnerships between Head Start and Early Head Start, child care, early care and education systems, schools, and communities to improve continuity for children and families across learning, health, and other community settings.
  • Promote high-quality teaching practices, including effective teacher-child interactions.



In January of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared The War on Poverty in his State of the Union speech. Shortly thereafter, Sargent Shriver took the lead in assembling a panel of experts to develop a comprehensive child development program that would help communities meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool children. Among these experts were Dr. Robert Cooke, a pediatrician at John Hopkins University, and Dr. Edward Zigler, a professor of psychology and director of the Child Study Center at Yale University.

Part of the government's thinking on poverty was influenced by new research on the effects of poverty, as well as on the impacts of education. This research indicated an obligation to help disadvantaged groups, compensating for inequality in social or economic conditions. Head Start was designed to help break the cycle of poverty, providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs. A key tenet of the program established that it be culturally responsive to the communities served, and that the communities have an investment in its success through the contribution of volunteer hours and other donations as nonfederal share.

In the summers of 1965 and 1966, the Office of Economic Opportunity launched an eight-week Project Head Start. In 1969, under the Nixon administration, Head Start was transferred from the Office of Economic Opportunity to the Office of Child Development in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Dr. Edward Zigler, who had served on the planning committee to launch Project Head Start, was appointed Director of the Office of Child Development. In 1977, under the Carter administration, Head Start began bilingual and bicultural programs in about 21 states. Seven years later, in October 1984 under the Reagan administration, Head Start's grant budget exceeded $1 billion. In September of 1995, under the Clinton administration, the first Early Head Start grants were given and in October of 1998, Head Start was reauthorized to expand to full-day and full-year services.

Head Start was most recently reauthorized again in 2007, under the George W. Bush administration, with several provisions to strengthen Head Start quality. These include alignment of Head Start school readiness goals with state early learning standards, higher qualifications for the Head Start teaching workforce, State Advisory Councils on Early Care and Education in every state, and increased program monitoring, including a review of child outcomes and annual financial audits. The Head Start training and technical assistance system was redesigned to support programs through six National Centers and a state-based system to ensure success.

The statute also included a provision that regulations be promulgated to move programs from an indefinite project period to a five-year grant cycle. Programs would be required to demonstrate they are of high quality or a competitive grant opportunity would be made available within the community. In 2009, under the Obama administration, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act added more than 64,000 slots for Early Head Start and Head Start programs.

Head Start has served more than 30 million children since 1965, growing from an eight-week demonstration project to include full day/year services and many program options. Currently, Head Start is administered by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start serves over a million children and their families each year in urban and rural areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories, including American Indian, Alaskan Native and Migrant/Seasonal communities.

Head Start 40th Anniversary, November 2005

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Read the transcript [PDF, 45KB] | Download the video [MP4, 157MB]

Head Start Educating Kids, Empowering Families, Changing Communities

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Read the transcript [PDF, 24KB] | Download the video [MP4, 54MB]

History of Head Start. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2011. English.

Submit your Head Start Story!

Since 1965, Head Start has served millions of children and families by promoting school readiness, by providing comprehensive services, and by emphasizing the role of parents as their child's first and most important teacher. These are the stories of how Head Start has impacted the lives of the children, parents, neighbors, and staff that have been involved in its programs.

Find Head Start Stories:

Myrna Martorell

"I strongly believe that Head Start does make a positive impact on families—forever." Myrna Martorell, disabilities coordinator, Bronx, NY

Myrna MartorellI was a Head Start parent, 33 years ago, when my youngest child attended Head Start. My life changed; I had just entered college and my goal was to be a physical therapist. One day a staff member invited me to attend a 20-week parenting workshop. What I learned was that Head Start is a program that educated my child, but also the family. I never would have thought that attending this workshop would change my whole life. The training helped me to be a better parent of my three daughters.

I continued college until one day I was told that an assistant teacher opening was available; I applied to become an assistant teacher, then head teacher, and now I am a disabilities coordinator. I have been on staff for Head Start for 27 Years. I strongly believe that Head Start does make a positive impact on families—forever. Thank you, Head Start!

Steve "Gary" Liwanag

"I am proud to be a part of our children's education. I will continue to strive in providing the best care for our young children." Steve "Gary" Liwanag, San Luis Obispo, CA

Steve 'Gary' LiwanagSteve "Gary" Liwanag has worked at the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County Head Start program since 1977. He wrote, "I began as an assistant in 1977. I soon became a teacher, followed by center supervisor. I have experienced many changes in my 37 years of employment with the program. Some of those changes have been good and some very challenging. I have always kept an inner enthusiasm, as each year begins, for myself, staff, parents and children. I have always enjoyed my employment with the agency that provides the Head Start program for our community and children. I am proud to be a part of our children's education. I will continue to strive in providing the best care for our young children."

Gary even met his wife at Head Start when they were both center supervisors. Jeannie Liwanag shared that Gary "enjoys his role as much today as the day he began. He serves as a valuable male role model for students, families, and community. He enjoys new challenges each year, mentoring staff, and promoting team work. I'm so proud of him and his infinite energy toward the program!"

Corina Spence

"I truly believe all partnerships are important, but the one we have with our families is the one that will have a lasting positive effect on our community." Corina Spence, onsite Head Start manager, Moab, UT

Corina SpenceMy name is Corina and I started out as a Head Start parent. I was a waitress and never even thought of becoming a teacher. As a young adult, I had started nursing school and was told that because I had epilepsy I would never have a career—and I believed that. But, I had teachers and leaders and the parent policy council say to me, "hey, you and your family are important and there is no reason you can't volunteer." So, I was in that classroom daily because they made me feel like I mattered and that my child would be a success because parents and Head Start are partners. They took my family by the hand and walked us step by step through what my child and family needed and that's when Head Start stole my heart. I became a Head Start teacher. I who had been told by a college professor that I could never have a career. My child learned to love himself and others no matter who they were or where they came from. He became a leader and someone to be looked up to by his peers. He was class president; played every sport possible; was in every class play; and on the debate team. He even received a scholarship for college because of his ability to see and adjust to such a diverse world he was growing up in.

The first time I had heard that parents are partners was at Head Start. Wow! I, for the first time felt important, felt like I had nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide! That was in October 1994; now, it is February 2015 and I am the onsite manager in Moab, UT, such a diverse and unique community. Here, I share the privilege of being a Head Start grandma, as my older son married into a family with two children who were Head Start kids, and he and his wife were Early Head Start parents and are now Head Start parents. They have had the privilege of many trainings and parenting classes to help them on the road of parenting, and they work very hard to be parents as partners in Head Start. They work hard in our community and are not afraid to speak up for their family and make good choices for their children and this is because they have had Head Start as a partner to reach out and say, "hey, let’s work together and make our community a better place."

Now, I see such progress in my grandchildren because Head Start took the time to work with them as a family to say, "hey, you matter and you can make a difference." Head Start has many community partnerships in Moab and each and every one of them plays an important role. However, I believe the most important partnership we have is the partnership we have with our parents. Parents have so much to offer and sometimes we forget to think about parents when we think about partnerships. When most of us hear partnership, our first thought goes to the school district, Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), family support center, or food bank; I could go on and on but I won't. I truly believe all partnerships are important, but the one we have with our families is the one that will have a lasting positive effect on our community.

Gwendolyn Wilson

"Now, I am receiving calls from families that I have inspired, as they experience Head Start." Gwendolyn Wilson, O.C.E.A.N., Inc., Toms River, NJ

Gwendolyn WilsonI am a 1979 Head Start graduate. I always told myself: "Gwen, when you grow up you are going to be a teacher." I never considered the educational perspective of this adventure that I desired; but, the whole twist of this is that, today I am a family partner/social worker.

When hardship struck and the economy was falling hard on working families like mine, I had no choice but to go to college in 2009. I was inspired to pursue a degree in social work, because of my compassion for community activities, volunteering, and being a resource parent for foster children and families. Before receiving my degree, my career advisor whispered some thoughts that put me on the path toward where I would be employed. I had in mind two places that would be my place of employment; so, after receiving my degree, I took the first journey to Head Start. I embraced my education, professionalism, positive attitude, and experience to pursue my passion for Head Start employment.

To make a long story short, I was in "awe" upon receiving the official phone call that I was accepted as an employee at a Head Start school. At that program, I was passionate that we could provide school readiness, family engagement, and a breath of inspiration that all things could be accomplished. Now, I am receiving calls from families that I have inspired, as they experience Head Start. For example, a mom from one of my families, who is a single parent with three children, called the other day to tell me "thank you" for the resources, advocacy, empowerment, and encouragement. She is now a licensed hair stylist who has moved to Georgia to pursue her career. I have been employed at Head Start for almost three years, and if these are the rewards to reap—I'll keep them.

Tracey Stone

"Tracey truly believes that what we do each day not only elevates families, but creates a stronger community for the children and families we serve." Karen Crow, Crawfordsville, IN

Tracey StoneKaren Crow, a Head Start teacher at Montgomery County Head Start wrote to tell us "our facilitator, Tracey Stone, works with over 50 families and always has the 'mission' in mind. Tracey truly believes that what we do each day not only elevates families, but creates a stronger community for the children and families we serve. She is the glue that holds our staff and Head Start center together and keeps us focused. Her love of children is evident and a joy to see!"

Katrina Letner

"My experience in Head Start helped shape who I am today. Head Start helped provide a solid foundation for me." Katrina Letner, Sevierville, TN

Katrina LetnerI was a Head Start child in 1986, in the hills of Tennessee—Sevierville to be exact, the home town of Dolly Pardon's "Dolly Wood." We lived on the meager wages my dad made playing music on the weekends and cleaning pools as his daytime job. My mom worked as a receptionist at a hotel. I am not sure how they found out about Head Start, but I am so glad that they did. I have fond memories of my time in Head Start. I remember the bus rides and practicing evacuation drills. I remember the hearing screening performed in a small little room I had not been in before. I can still picture the classroom layout, the writing center, the tables where we ate lunch and made art, and the dramatic play area. There, I learned to count to one hundred, to begin to write my name—first with stencils, then on my own. My "N" was often backwards. More importantly, I learned to make friends, get along with others, and follow classroom rules and expectations. I learned I could do lots of things if I tried.

At the end of the year, our parents came to a celebration. Together, the children, families, and staff planted a tree near our playground. Throughout my life, I have often wondered how big that tree is now. As an adult, I realize now that the tree we planted almost 30 years ago is symbolic of my experience in Head Start. Like that tree, I started out small and vulnerable in a big world. Head Start tended to my roots and supported my parents in making sure I flourished. My experience in Head Start helped shape who I am today. Head Start helped provide a solid foundation for me. Head Start built me up. My time there instilled in me a love of learning. Remember, as you go through each day, teachers and Head Start staff, that each child that comes through our doors is like a sapling, small and vulnerable to the big world around them. We help to nurture them, build them up, prepare them for success in school and in life; we tend to their roots, their families. The services we provide make a difference every day in the lives of our most vulnerable children.

Ed Casias

"I cannot speak enough about the benefits of Head Start. I truly believe it saves lives." Ed Casias, Gospel Hall Head Start in Denver, CO from 1969-1970.

Ed CasiasI don't know how or why my mother signed us up for Head Start, but I think it was one of the best decisions she ever made for us. My father dropped out of school in the 9th grade to support his younger siblings. He is a Korean War Veteran and I believe he realized education was the way for us to avoid the back-breaking labor that he was doing to support his family. My mother is a high school graduate and was a very good student, but she did not have the option of college. She married my father at a young age and started a family; however, I believe she knew we had great potential and wanted to give us every opportunity to better our lives.

Of the eight children in my family, four of us attended Head Start. I was the first, followed by my sister Dawn, my brother Sam, and my brother Luke. Of the four children in my family that attended Head Start, all four graduated from high school, three graduated from college, and two obtained post-graduate degrees. Of the four that did not attend Head Start, three graduated from high school and one obtained a college degree.

I still remember walking into Gospel Hall for Head Start. It was located in an old church. The assembly room had been cleared and we sat on a wooden floor for most of the class. The church had a playground that we would use for outdoor activity time. The church is still there, and when I dropped in with my son a year ago, there was a group of kids present in the assembly room. The floor had been carpeted, but nothing else had changed. I don't know if the group was of Head Start kids, but I did explain to the adult that I was showing my pre-school aged son where I had attended pre-school.

When I started Head Start, it was my first experience away from my family. One of my aunts was my teacher and it's a good thing she was, because I did not know that my name was "Edward." All of us kids have family nicknames that are still used to this day. As I had never been called "Ed" or "Edward" before, I did not know who people were talking to when I was addressed as "Edward." Thankfully, my aunt was there and could call me by my nickname. I have to credit Head Start for teaching me my name. I remember learning to count in Head Start and being rewarded for reaching a certain number by receiving M&Ms. I truly believe Head Start provided me with the foundation for all of my learning tools and educational ambitions.

By way of side note, I grew up with a group of six friends. Some of them attended Head Start and some did not. Of the six friends, three attended Head Start with me and three did not. The three that attended Head Start graduated from high school. Of the three that did not attend Head Start, one committed suicide and two served prison sentences. None of them graduated from high school. I cannot say that Head Start would have saved them, but I believe it might have helped.

I graduated from Manual High School in 1983. I attended and graduated from Colorado College, a highly ranked liberal arts college, in 1987. I attended Colorado College on an academic scholarship. After obtaining my Bachelor of Arts degree in business and economics, I applied to various law schools. Ultimately, I attended Ohio State University College of Law and obtained my Juris Doctor in 1990. After graduating law school, I worked for a prestigious law firm in Denver for 18 months before leaving private practice to become a state prosecutor. I was a state prosecutor for 10 years, ultimately reaching the level of assistant district attorney for the 5th judicial district of Colorado. I was the number two prosecutor in the district, just below the elected district attorney. In September of 2000, I was appointed by Governor Bill Owens to the Summit County Court bench in Breckenridge, CO. I have been the county court judge since that date.

I cannot speak enough about the benefits of Head Start. I truly believe it saves lives. May it continue to be the pathway to success for all children who need the services it provides. If there is any way I can help this wonderful program, all it has to do is ask.

Karen Matlick

"Karen always goes above and beyond in her job. If we are running low on snacks, Karen buys some. If a child doesn't have shoes, Karen sees that she gets some." Penny Carrier, Grant Early Childhood Center in Ferndale, MI

Karen MatlickPenny Carrier, from Grant Early Childhood Center in Ferndale, MI wrote, "I would just like the world to know what a great teaching assistant Karen Matlick is. Karen always goes above and beyond in her job. If we are running low on snacks, Karen buys some. If a child doesn't have shoes, Karen sees that she gets some. If a parent has a need and won't accept help, Karen sends a card with a gift card anonymously. Karen gives every child a hug and special one-on-one attention. She makes sure the child has had breakfast when they arrive—no matter what time it is. Karen is my right arm; without her I could do nothing. Karen brings bright new ideas to our classroom. Karen gives extra time whenever needed. Karen is a bright and shining star at Ferndale Head Start/GSRP Blend in Ferndale, MI."

Richfield Public Library

"We have contributed over 1,000 books that have gone directly to Head Start families so that kids can own their own books and keep them at home." Richfield Public Library, Richfield, UT

Jessica Tung, Andrea Christy & Lucille Duncan Tending to the YMCARichfield Public Library has partnered with our local Head Start programs for eight years, after learning that some Head Start kids had few or no books in their homes. Utilizing Institute for Museum and Library Services grants, Volunteers of America books, Firstbook, donated books, and Friends of the Library funds, we bought over 200 quality hardcover books for Head Starts to use with families and in classrooms. We have contributed over 1,000 books that have gone directly to Head Start families so that kids can own their own books and keep them at home. We frequently do story times at Head Start programs, and have donated Spanish and bilingual books. We welcome Head Start kids and teachers to get free library cards. We partner with Head Start to do an annual DIA Extravaganza of Children's Book Day to bring in the whole community to hear multicultural stories. We take donated and discarded books to the School Summer Free Lunch Program in our parks and encourage kids to take them home without needing a library card—or worrying about fines. The story I am personally most touched by was when we had a parent who spoke only Japanese but passionately wanted to read to his children in his native language. The Friends of the Library located and bought three bilingual books of Japanese legends in beautifully illustrated picture books. The man wept with happiness when he was able to read books to his children. We knew that research shows it doesn't matter what language the parent reads in; children learn to read in English just as readily when they hear a parent love to read to them in any language. We love Head Start and see the huge difference it makes to our community kids.

United Community Action Program

"It was a worthwhile experience for them and for us, as we refer our parents to these community organizations." Mary Gilford, family and community engagement manager, United Community Action Program, Inc., Pawnee, OK

Jessica Tung, Andrea Christy & Lucille Duncan Tending to the YMCAI want to share the story of United Community Action Program's annual event, Tend-To-You Day—on this day we connect with the community. On the first Friday of June, our family support advocates select a local community service organization to serve volunteers from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Our program is big and widespread over nine counties, so this is going on in several community locations. Family support staff are encouraged to include other staff members to go along with them. This summer will be our fourth Tend-To-You Day. Some of the things we have volunteered doing is meals-on-wheels; putting flags on veterans graves for Memorial Day; Salvation Army clothes donations; dancing with Alzheimer patients at the senior day care; walking dogs at the pound; baking sweet treats for care workers, food banks, and nursing homes; and serving free meals, just to name a few. It was a worthwhile experience for them and for us, as we refer our parents to these community organizations.

Michael Robinson

"Head Start served as a catalyst to change the course of my life and compete equally with more advantaged children." Michael Robinson, Fairfax County Head Start 1996–1998

Michael RobinsonLooking back, my Head Start education is one of those things that made the possibility of going from a low-income household to one of the best academic institutions in the world possible. I am about to graduate from Yale—an incredible realization—and I know it started when I had the opportunity to start my education early. When I first walked into a classroom in Fairfax, VA in September 1996, the educational system was making a bold investment in my future. I just hope there has been an equal return on investment.

One of the strongest memories I have is of my teacher, Ms. Harlow, spending time to talk with my mother and grandmother about how they could spur my academic curiosity. I would go to school for those few hours in the day and then come home with books so I could begin learning to read. When I entered kindergarten and first grade, I was not behind the curve, as many children from low-income backgrounds are, but I was reading at an equal and then much higher grade level than some of my peers. Thousands of read books and papers later, I understand that this was a critical point in my education.

Head Start gave me the tools to feel confident in an educational setting, not frustrated and discouraged as many of our young people are. Head Start gave me an environment to love learning. Head Start served as a catalyst to change the course of my life and compete equally with more advantaged children.

I do not think it gave me a "head start" but a more equal start—an equal chance at success and social mobility, in this great country, through education.

Lil Woodruff

"Her priority is the children's education and making a difference in their young lives." Lil Woodruff, teacher at Community Action Program for Central Arkansas, Beebe, AR

Lil WoodruffMelody, a family advocate at Community Action Program for Central Arkansas, writes, "Ms. Lil Woodruff is the heart of our Head Start center in Beebe, AR. She has been with Head Start for over 20 years and has the enthusiasm and nurturing spirit of a new teacher. Her priority is the children's education and making a difference in their young lives."

Melody Hedden

"You see, Head Start is still the security blanket that I hang on and I knew I had moved from a 'not supposed to be' to a 'Head Start Hero' in a matter of 16 years." Melody Hedden, family and community services specialist, Crookston, MN

Melody Hedden and familyI am a Head Start baby! I am a "wasn't supposed to be"! My family enrolled me into the local Head Start in North Carolina in 1979. Our family was stricken with poverty, but the funny thing is I never knew until much later. My father was a farmer who battled alcoholism; my mother worked odd jobs to help make ends meet. My aunt was the director of Head Start and convinced my family to enroll me. That was the first time that I met my peers that I would later graduate high school with. I can remember my teacher coming out for home visits; I was sure it was because I was her favorite student. Head Start got my dad, who is the shyest person I have ever known, to not only volunteer but to play Santa for our entire class. Head Start had become my security blanket. I eventually, not at my own free will, aged out of Head Start. I would go many years not really acknowledging the amazing gift I had been given from the program, but carrying the security I had learned from Head Start.

Tragedy would strike at the tender age of 12 and I lost my father to suicide. My mother went into a deep depression and we moved around a lot and she married several times. I eventually graduated, married, and had children of my own. I stayed home with my children for a few years, and then it hit me I needed to gift them the experience of Head Start as well. They were able to assist my oldest son in building confidence and paving the way for his career in the U.S. Army. They were able to teach my daughter social skills with the assistance of speech programs, and she is now enrolled in college with aspirations to be a social worker. Head Start assisted in giving me the voice to speak up for my youngest son in having his medical needs met. With their help and persistence, I learned that his failed health screenings were a symptom of something bigger; this led to our finding out that he had a brain tumor, and needed glasses and tubes in his ears. He is now a thriving 13 year old.

Nobody had to convince me that Head Start worked. I became passionate about Head Start and was given the opportunity to become a family advocate at the same Head Start my children and I went to. I started my career in June of 1999. In 2009, I was awarded "Family Advocate of the Year" for North Carolina. A couple of years later, I earned my degree in Human Services. I was also given the opportunity to earn my family service credential with Duke University; I would later coach that same program for three years. In 2012, I was promoted to Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance (ERSEA) Specialist. While I enjoyed my position, I knew that I wanted to continue to climb that Head Start ladder which would lead me to accepting the family and community services position in September of 2014, in Minnesota. You read it right: This girl packed up and moved her family from North Carolina in the name of Head Start. You see, Head Start is still the security blanket that I hang on and I knew I had moved from a "not supposed to be" to a "Head Start Hero" in a matter of 16 years. I pledge to dedicate the next 16 years to Head Start and doing my part to foster life changing events in the lives of children and their families.

Levesta Deere

"My motto is never quit learning, even when you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel." Levesta Deere, assistant teacher at Crossroads Youth & Family Services' Learning Tree Head Start/Early Head Start Center, Shawnee, OK

Lavesta Deere GraduatesSpring is a time when thousands of eager young graduates march across the stage to accept their college diplomas. It's also a time when folks of a more mature age may feel the pangs of regret, because life has gotten in the way of their pursuing a college degree. The pressures of work, marriage, children, and a thousand other things have a way of doing that. Such was the case for Levesta Deere, an assistant teacher at Crossroads Youth & Family Services' Learning Tree Head Start/Early Head Start Center in Shawnee, OK. All that changed, however, when Levesta graduated at the age of 66 with an associate's degree in Child Development from Seminole State College, and participated this year in its commencement ceremony on May 10, 2014, after hoping for 48 years to be able to do so.

The intervening years, since she began her mission to be a college graduate, were busy ones, and they also had their share of sorrow. She graduated from Porter Public Schools in 1966, married her late husband Jessie Deere, and had a daughter, Jessica. She lost her husband, and then lost her job, when the daycare center she worked for went out of business. She has had to battle a serious health problem. But fate intervened for Levesta and for Crossroads Youth & Family Services. Levesta was one of the first employees hired when Crossroads assumed sponsorship of the Head Start Program in Pottawatomie, Cleveland, and Seminole Counties in 2003 (Comanche County followed in 2006). She now has a granddaughter, Lauren, and a great grandson, Jessie, who attends Early Head Start at Learning Tree. She also credits her brother, Tommy Lewis, for his encouragement and help along the way.

A colleague and education coordinator for Crossroads, Terrie Vicknair, had this to say about Levesta when she nominated her for special recognition: "Levesta respects and provides individual care to each child as if he were the only one in her classroom. She had one little boy in her class who had to be placed in foster care outside the county and no longer would have Levesta as his teacher. When he commented that he would miss her, she drew an imaginary star on his forehead with her finger and said, 'Now every time I look at the night sky and see the stars, I will think of you.' She gave a child, seemingly alone in the world, a sense of belonging to someone. This is typical of Levesta, because the children in her care mean everything to her."

As Deere explained, "I was as slow as a turtle in finishing my degree, but I did it! I failed biology in 1966 and promised myself to pass it before I died. That was the last class I needed in order to get my degree. My motto is never quit learning, even when you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The best antidote for failure is to succeed."

"I want to thank Crossroads and Seminole State College for the warmth and encouragement they gave me to finish," Deere continued. "There is a season for everything, and my first dream was to see my daughter and granddaughter graduate. Now, it was my turn."

"This attitude exemplifies Levesta's personal drive and commitment to the agency. She is an outstanding employee and a gifted teacher. Her newest accomplishment illustrates one of the cornerstone values of our agency, which is the importance of lifelong learning," said Lisa Winters, executive director of Crossroads Youth & Family Services. "We are lucky to have her." Levesta credits Head Start with helping her achieve her lifelong dream—being a college graduate. The achievement of lifelong dreams and the practice of lifelong learning are part of the legacy of the Head Start Program, a legacy approaching a half a century of excellence.


Last Reviewed: May 2014

Last Updated: March 17, 2015