"Head Start empowered me to be a leader." Kimberly P. Johnson, Head Start graduate and Children's Book Author, Shelby, NC
Head Start Stories
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.
"Head Start taught me so much about parenting, early childhood development, and most important, about myself and my abilities." Bonificia R. Riedel, former Head Start parent and current Head Start administrator, Cheyenne, WY
A blue toothbrush, a comb and a balloon. I still remember my Head Start teacher giving me those wonderful gifts more than 40 years ago. They meant so much to a child who had so little.
My father was an alcoholic and our family often struggled for the bare necessities, such as food and electricity. My mom had little time or energy to guide me and my six siblings. As a result, I never felt smart. I simply learned to accept what I thought were my shortcomings.
When I became a parent, Head Start helped me see beyond my insecurities. After I enrolled the last of my children in Head Start, I decided to go to college. I was so scared. I sat in the reception area of our local community college for an hour before I asked for help. The Head Start staff helped me choose classes and navigate financial aid. They kept me going every time I felt like dropping out.
When I graduated from nursing school I became a Head Start health coordinator. I kept getting promoted but I was still shocked when they asked me to interview for the Head Start director position. I was beside myself when I got the job! I love what I do.
Thanks to Head Start, my own son entered public school three years ahead in reading and writing skills. He is in college now. My eyes tear up when I see what an incredible young man he has grown to be. Head Start taught me so much about parenting, early childhood development, and most important, about myself and my abilities.
I cannot begin to express the good fortune that Head Start has brought to my life and my entire family. My heart is full of pride as I share my Head Start story.
"(They) made sure I earned my high school diploma. That may not seem like such a big deal, but my family was homeless at the time so it was quite an accomplishment." Jesus A. Valdovinos, Head Start graduate and current Head Start administrator, Ruskin, FL
When I was a boy and my family wasn't following the tomato season along the East Coast, I was enrolled in a Migrant Head Start center in Florida. I remember the classrooms and the joyful noises coming from those classrooms. Most of all I remember the songs that were sung by teachers. Those experiences gave me a taste for learning and using new words and an appreciation for reading. After we settled down in Ruskin, a suburb of Tampa, FL, my family continued to work in the fields. I stayed in the RCMA after-school program for migrant and rural children until the third grade. A few years later, I returned to volunteer in the RCMA teen program. Some of the organizers made sure I earned my high school diploma. That may not seem like such a big deal, but my family was homeless at the time so it was quite an accomplishment.
But then my mentor told me, "Your job is not done yet. You need to go to college." The RCMA program even lent me the money for my college application. A few years down the line, my mentor asked if I wanted to volunteer again. I agreed, and when a tutor position opened up I applied and was hired. I worked as a RCMA tutor for a few years. Then I applied to become the Center Coordinator. By the time I received the position I had finished my bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida. A few years passed and I was ready for new challenge. I became the Family Support Specialist for child care programs in the Wimauma area and enrolled at Hodges University to earn my master's degree. The people at RCMA are still helping me, and I'm still seeing the results of the "Head Start" I had as a child.
"When Sarah first went to school, she hardly talked. Now she's talking, singing, and dancing." Maranda Shepherd, Head Start parent, Wheeling, WV
I'd like to share how Early Head Start is helping me and my children, Sarah, age 2, and Nevaeh, 4 months. Sarah likes to play outside with the other children and gets along well with them. She learned "gentle hands" at Head Start and no longer hits. When she first went to school, she hardly talked. Now she's talking, singing, and dancing. Through the Early Head Start Program, Sarah is learning her ABC's, too. Nevaeh is learning to sit up. She is already trying to crawl and is holding her head up on her own! Early Head Start is amazing. They're teaching my children and helping them excel.
They're also giving me the opportunity to get things done for myself. I have signed up for my GED and am working on getting my own apartment. Our family has experienced some tough times, and I feel good knowing that my daughters are safe and secure at school. There are two great teachers in each room. I am confident that my children are getting the proper care and attention. Sarah can even see her little sister through her classroom window, which she loves! I'm also getting support from the YWCA Family Violence Prevention Program. Through the Y and Early Head Start, I have the chance to provide the kind of life my children and I deserve. I can never thank these programs enough for helping me through this time in my life.
"As a parent volunteer, I have acquired more professional skills than I have gained at any job." Melvena Wilkerson, former Head Start parent, Detroit, MI
I am a proud to be part of Head Start. My two children, Kevina and Kevin, attended The Order of the Fishermen Ministry Head Start. They are doing exceptionally well in school, and I know it's because they went to Head Start. As a parent volunteer, I have acquired more professional skills than I have gained at any job. I have learned to communicate more effectively as an advocate for our children. I have also learned the importance of knowing the law and adhering to it. The information that governs Head Start has helped me to be a better-equipped parent. I have participated in Leadership Trainings, and I learned how to conduct meetings through Head Start Program Governance. The opportunity has allowed me the ability to joyfully share all I know with families. HEAD START WORKS!
"Head Start was my only chance for an early childhood education." Sheena Prince, Head Start graduate, Oxon Hill, MD
As a young child growing up in the nation's capital, I had the opportunity to attend Head Start at the Peace Lutheran Church in Southeast Washington, DC. I am an individual with special needs and a psychiatric disability and my family was on hard times, so Head Start was my only chance for an early childhood education. After my parents divorced, I suffered separation anxiety and problems adjusting to new environments. Head Start provided a place where I could acquire the fundamental, critical skills of early learning and socialization. It prepared me to enter kindergarten with a reading-comprehension level far above most students in my age group. I became an extremely advanced learner whose placement always posed a challenge to school staff and officials. As I reached high school, it was apparent that I had academic strengths that surpassed my peers.
But I faced many challenges, often due to the educational system's failure to offer good alternatives to students with exceptional learning needs. I feel that some changes are urgently needed to ensure that all children receive a quality education. My main mission in life is to advocate for improvements within the special education sector. I am working toward earning a degree in Early Childhood Education. I would like to help students in early intervention special needs programs have the rich educational background that every child, regardless of ability, deserves just as I received in Head Start.
Last Reviewed: April 2013
Last Updated: April 9, 2013