The National Head Start Fellowship Program (NHSFP) supports and grows early childhood leaders who come from diverse backgrounds, including a range of professional experiences, individual skills, and talents, and across communities. The NHSFP is different from many other fellowship programs because of its broad scope and support of the comprehensive approach in Head Start programs.
The NHSFP offers an intensive, paid work experience in federal program offices in Washington, DC, and has reciprocal benefits for all involved. While the Office of Head Start benefits from the diverse perspectives and experiences of its Fellows, the Fellows learn directly from professionals working in the field and through hands-on involvement in new and innovative endeavors.
National Head Start Fellowships are awarded on a highly competitive basis to applicants who work in local Head Start programs, the field of early childhood, or children and family services. Fellowships are awarded for a term of one year.
The NHSFP is more than a national fellowship; it is often a transformational experience. The fellowship provides leadership development that builds on formal education and training programs by offering real-world experience at the national level. This experience helps boost each Fellow’s vision, self-confidence, contributions, independent thinking, and broader commitment to the early childhood field.
This transformation experience also offers benefits beyond the individuals. The Fellows' energy, fresh thinking, diverse backgrounds, and recent work in the field bring new ideas to the federal agencies where they work. NHSFP alumni have shown an impressive history of contributing to research and national perspectives; growing into leadership positions; making a difference in their respective fields, positions, and communities; and mentoring others.
About the NHSFP
The NHSFP is administered by the Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1994, the Head Start Quality and Expansion advisory committee envisioned a fellowship program that would create a new group of leaders in Head Start communities and child and family services. Congress approved the Head Start Fellowship Program leadership initiative as part of the bipartisan reauthorization of the Head Start Act in 1995. The NHSFP officially began in 1996, continued through 2012 with 16 classes, and returned in 2023. The NHSFP remains a strictly bipartisan tradition.
The purpose of the NHSFP is to enhance the ability of Head Start Fellows to make significant contributions to programs by providing opportunities to expand their knowledge and experience through exposure to activities, issues, resources, and new approaches, in the field of child development and family services (Sec. 648A(d)).
Across its history, the NHSFP has developed a large group of alumni who continue to influence and give back to Head Start communities and the broader early childhood field in service to children and families.
Watch this introductory webinar to learn more about NHSFP’s history and hear a panel of former Fellows discuss their experiences and the program’s benefits.
The Office of Head Start provides funding for up to five Fellows each year with a $95,000 stipend, including health insurance, benefits package, and paid time off. This 12-month fellowship begins in October 2023 in Washington, DC and will end in September 2024. Relocation expenses are not covered; however, Fellows will receive support to identify housing.
Core Program Components
There are three key components to the NHSFP, described below.
Federal Work Experience
The NHSFP work experience component offers the opportunity to gain first-hand experience and a national perspective into the operations of the Office of Head Start and other federal programs serving children and families with the greatest need. The NHSFP offers a multifaceted work experience. Fellows spend their year working full-time contributing their content expertise, special skills, and perspectives to support the Administration’s initiatives and priorities. The Fellows work with senior managers, federal policymakers, educators, and researchers. In their work assignments, Fellows’ contributions include but are not limited to:
- Writing position papers and resources
- Reviewing research and policies
- Chairing meetings and workgroups
- Analyzing data
- Participating in strategic discussions about services to children and families
Successful work experience requires quick learning, initiative, flexibility, and willingness to be a team player. Fellows are supported in their work assignments through their supervisor and other federal leaders.
At the end of the Fellowship year, Fellows return to their communities more experienced in program planning, decision-making, and federal policy. They are better positioned in leadership roles to provide comprehensive support to children and families with the greatest need.
Professional and Leadership Development
The NHSFP offers professional and leadership development components to assess, build, and support leadership skills. Weekly professional development activities enhance the Fellows’ work experience.
Fellows attend briefings, trainings, and meetings that allow them to come together as a group and discuss national issues affecting children and families with senior government officials, nationally recognized experts, community leaders, and innovative early childhood program practitioners. These opportunities give Fellows the ability to practice, refine, and expand their leadership skills and reflect on their own professional growth.
Mentorship is included as part of the professional and leadership development component. Boston University’s Wheelock School of Education and Development’s Center of Ecology and Early Development (CEED) allows Fellows to explore specific areas of interest. Fellows are part of a mentorship team along with a mentor and a policy fellow from the Researchers Investigating Socioculture Equity and Race (RISER) network. Fellows meet monthly to discuss topics with their mentoring team, which supports the Fellows in connecting their learning to current research and policy practices.
At the end of the fellowship year, each Fellow presents a capstone project to highlight their experience across, work contributions, professional and leadership development, and their own personal growth.
Interpersonal and Networking Opportunities
The interpersonal opportunities component creates a Fellowship class environment that offers both diversity and cohesiveness to create a strong leadership team among Fellows from different backgrounds. Fellows spend time together and learn from each other’s lived experiences as an essential dimension of the program.
Each class of Fellows is purposefully constructed to include many dimensions of diversity. With a year of joint work experience and professional development opportunities, a setting for formal and informal dialogue provides rich knowledge and exposure to diverse ideas and perspectives amongst Fellows.
Fellows have the chance to network with national early childhood leaders and NHSFP alumni who offer valuable insight to maximize the fellowship experience and increase their professional network. Informal mentoring creates unique opportunities for Fellows to build additional professional relationships.
Through a multi-step competitive selection process, the Office of Head Start along with School Readiness Consulting (SRC) and an independent volunteer commission identify five individuals with outstanding leadership potential, demonstrated career accomplishments, substantial content area expertise, and potential for high levels of contributions and professional achievement.
The selection process seeks to create the most qualified class of Fellows representing diversity in geographic location, content area expertise, educational background, and a range of career experience. It includes screening for eligibility, reviews of career and work experience summary, short essays responses, and two letters of recommendation. The top applicants are named National Finalists and participate in virtual interviews and collaborative group experiences with other finalists.
Head Start legislation stipulates that those selected must be U.S. citizens and working in child development and family services at the time of application. Federal employees and contractors are ineligible to apply, with the exception of career military. There are no restrictions on race, creed, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical requirements.
Applicants must be able to complete the electronic application, including written responses, letters of recommendation, and virtual interviews. If selected, candidates must commit to a 12-month Fellowship and relocate to Washington, DC, from October 2023 – September 2024.
- May 25, 2023, from 1–2 p.m. ET: NHSFP Informational Webinar
- June 1, 2023: Application window opens.
- June 23, 2023: Application deadline; must be submitted on or before this date to be considered.
- July 2023: Approximately 15 candidates are named as National Finalists and participate in two days of virtual interviews and group experiences.
- Early August 2023: NHSFP Fellows announced.
- Sept. 11–15, 2023: Fellows travel to Washington, DC with expenses paid at federal rates for a housing search, pre-orientation, and networking opportunities.
- Oct. 16, 2023 – Sept. 27, 2024: NHSFP start and end dates.
The National Head Start Fellowship Program is managed by School Readiness Consulting on behalf of the Office of Head Start. Over the next five years, SRC will manage the NHSFP and continue the core components of the program. For additional questions, please contact the SRC team at nhsfp at schoolreadinessconsulting dot com.
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Office of Head Start
Last Updated: May 30, 2023