Head Start and Early Head Start programs offer a variety of service models, depending on the needs of the local community. Many Head Start and Early Head Start programs are based in centers and schools. Other programs are located in child care centers and family child care homes. Some programs offer home-based services that assigned dedicated staff who conduct weekly visits to children in their own home and work with the parent as the child's primary teacher.
More than 50 years ago, Head Start began as a program for preschoolers. Today 3- and 4-year-olds make up more than 80 percent of the children served by Head Start programs each year. Early Head Start (EHS) was created to serve pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. EHS programs are open to the family until the child turns 3 and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program. Just recently, many EHS programs have been funded to partner directly with existing infant and toddler child care programs, resulting in higher quality services to all children enrolled in the child care program.
Head Start programs support children's growth and development in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, which include:
Early learning: Children's readiness for school and beyond is fostered through individualized learning experiences. Through relationships with adults, play, and planned and spontaneous instruction, children grow in many aspects of development. Children progress in social skills and emotional well-being, along with language and literacy learning, and concept development
Health: Each child's perceptual, motor, and physical development is supported to permit them to fully explore and function in their environment. All children receive health and development screenings, nutritious meals, oral health and mental health support. Programs connect families with medical, dental, and mental health services to ensure that children are receiving the services they need.
Family well-being: Parents and families are supported in achieving their own goals, such as housing stability, continued education, and financial security. Programs support and strengthen parent-child relationships and engage families around children's learning and development.
Delivered through 1,700 agencies in local communities, Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide services to over a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory, in farmworker camps, and in more than 155 tribal communities. Head Start programming is responsive to the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage of each child and family.
Find out more in the comprehensive Head Start services video.
View Head Start fact sheets to learn more about demographics, state allocations, program statistics, and general information on Head Start enrollment history.
Explore the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework to learn more about each the domains of school readiness—Approaches to Learning, Social and Emotional Development, Language and Literacy, Cognition, and Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development.
The Head Start Program Locator can help you find the program nearest you. Family members must apply directly with a program in their area.
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).
Dr. Blanca Enriquez is the director of OHS. She has been an administrator and supervisor of Head Start programs since 1987.
Blanca has been active in early childhood education for more than 40 years. Most recently, she was the executive director of a Texas Head Start program that has won many local, state, and national awards for excellence. She also has served on the Texas State Secretary's Advisory Committee on Early Childhood Education and was appointed by former President George W. Bush as an advisory board member for the National Institute for Literacy. She holds a master's of education degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and a doctorate in education administration from New Mexico State University.
OHS administers grant funding and oversight to the agencies that provide Head Start services in communities across the country. OHS also provides 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 8,598,095,000 for FY2014. $7,782,420,000 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. $203,322,000 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 FY2015 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.
Dr. Enriquez has a vision to position Head Start as a value-added, highly respected and accepted program for young children and their families; where Head Start grantees are high performing organizations and every child receives comprehensive, high quality, early care and education.
Four strategic priorities reflect what it means to be a high performing organization:
High Performing Grantees are guided by systems thinkers with effective governance skills. They are focused on program excellence and fiscal responsibility. These data-driven decision makers have a mindset of continuous improvement that keeps them responsive and accountable.
Comprehensive School Readiness is attained through high quality systems of strength-based services for children, birth to 5, and their families. This includes services related to early learning, health, and family well-being. All components are culturally and linguistically responsive to the highly diverse populations we serve.
Leadership with Character is based in dignity and respect for people and the agency. Head Start leaders demonstrate honesty and integrity in their actions; effectiveness in their results; inclusivity in seeking input; and transparency and ethics in operations.
Partnerships & Collaborations model teamwork and are integral components at every level, both within and outside the organization. Partnering with families, local education agencies, and child care arrangements increase the program's effectiveness. Community, state, and national agencies can provide unique resources not available through other means. All children deserve high quality care and education, whether served by Head Start or by other entities.
The Office of Head Start operational priorities describe the work of the Office of Head Start toward implementing the vision through 2017.
Implement policy to promote Head Start and Early Head Start quality. Finalize and implement new Head Start Program Performance Standards and Fiscal Uniform Guidance requirements.
Ensure Head Start and Early Head Start learning environments and services provide safe, secure, and healthy places for all children to learn and develop. Prioritize active supervision in all settings to increase focused attention and intentional observation of children at all times; promote positive child health outcomes; increase emphasis on preventive services; promote access to continuous, accessible health services; and promote mental wellness of staff, children, pregnant women, and families.
Systematically embed outcomes-based family well-being and family engagement strategies in Head Start and Early Head Start. Using the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework as a guide, integrate family engagement and family economic mobility strategies across all aspects of Head Start and Early Head Start to effectively build relationships; engage and support Head Start and Early Head Start families; and boost family well-being and children’s school readiness.
Leverage partnerships to enhance quality systems and services. Promote partnerships between Head Start and Early Head Start, child care, early care and education systems, State Head Start Collaboration Offices, schools, and communities to improve continuity for children and families across learning, health, and other community settings.
Improve the leadership and management of Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Use the five year grant oversight process and the Designation Renewal System to yield effective leadership, data-driven practice for continuous improvement, effective use of program funds and assets to support identified program outcomes, and implementation of regulatory guidance/program requirements.
Fully implement the aligned monitoring review system. Use the aligned monitoring system as part of the five year grant oversight process to assure grantees effectively implement quality programs.
Implement the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) T/TA system transformation. Through effective T/TA delivery, promote high quality evidence-based technical assistance for Head Start and Early Head Start programs and the early childhood field. Strengthen the organizational policies and practices at the regional, state, and local level, and improve staff practices with children and families across early childhood education settings.
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. See a full timeline and learn more about the legacy of Head Start in the 50th Anniversary portal.
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.
"Sean and his classmates discovered both similarities and differences between them, and they learned to be accepting of each other."Kris Landrum, Former Head Start Student, Rocky Mountain, VA
Just a few years ago, you had to drag Sean Flannagan onto the school bus and into his Head Start classroom kicking and screaming. "If you love me, you won't make me go!" he would cry to his mother. Now he stops by Head Start regularly to show love to his former teacher, Shirley Wells, and to share news of his personal milestones and accomplishments. Sometimes, he makes a special trip to drop off clothes and shoes for the less fortunate kids.
At 17, this once shy and fearful child will soon become an Eagle Scout. His project, building wall-length cabinets for the Patrick Henry Volunteer Fire Department in Patrick Springs, is just one manifestation of the responsible, caring young man he has become.
He credits much of that to his experience at Head Start. "It gave me a jump start when I was going into kindergarten," he said. "I had already had interaction with other kids and knew how to do lots of stuff;" the other children were just learning. Having enrolled in Head Start when he was 4, Flannagan learned the alphabet and numbers and could sound out words and read a little. He was introduced to computers, participated in fields trips, and could recite his own address and phone number.
Most importantly, according to his mother, Tina Flannagan, he learned how to be independent. When he was at home, he was a vivacious, confident child, she said. "But when he was not with family, he was not very outgoing." She laughs as she tells about the time when Sean was struggling against Wells as she tried to bring him into the school. "Mrs. Wells says, 'It will be alright.' He's got her down on the ground in the parking lot and he's hanging on to her hair and she says, 'Tell Mommy you love her!' She never quit smiling."
Head Start is offered in Patrick and Franklin counties by STEP, Inc. (Solutions That Empower People), a community action agency. Head Start enrolls 4- and 5-year-olds, and Early Head Start is available for infants through 3 years old. The focus of the programs is on school readiness for children in low-income families.
Wells, now the Early Head Start program manager in Patrick County, said that once Flannagan became accustomed to being away from home and his mother, he flourished. "Once he got over his mom leaving him, he quickly embraced the Head Start learning environment. I loved seeing his little face light up when I would sing with the class, read a story, or share any new experience. He learned very quickly that the classroom was an environment where he could feel safe and it was okay to explore. He was a fast learner, which made him a leader and he loved being a leader," she said.
When he started at Head Start, Flannagan had a speech problem. His mother remembers that Wells pointed out that his writing was especially large and that he separated words in odd places. Later, the Flannagans discovered that Sean registered on the autism spectrum, but toward the bottom of the scale. "Head Start brought it out that something wasn't quite right," Tina Flannagan said. It turns out he has a learning disability, an oral language disorder. Math is a particular challenge for him.
Still, Flannagan's mother says that through Head Start he gained confidence and made friends. She saw him branch out and blossom. Sean and his classmates discovered both similarities and differences between them, and they learned to be accepting of each other. "He still has lasting friendships with those Head Start kids. One is an usher in the church. Several of his Head Start friends graduated from high school a year early. A number of them are in Junior Beta. Some graduated with honors. Most of them are doing pretty well," she said.
Flannagan will be a senior at Patrick County High School this year and wants to become a welder after he graduates. He likes working with his hands. In addition to the Boy Scouts, he is on the track and field team at school and plays the baritone saxophone in the marching band. He works odd jobs to help with family finances and buys his own school clothes. He works hard to keep his grades up.
Both Wells and Flannagan's mother say that Head Start laid the groundwork for Sean to be who he is today. "My experience with Sean and his family is a wonderful example of how programs like Head Start truly can be that added support to assure our children are school-ready," Wells said. Tina Flannagan refutes claims she's heard that Head Start is just a babysitting service. "We were surprised. Head Start is just like school," she said.
Solutions That Empower People, or STEP, Inc., serves over 3,000 of our friends and neighbors in the community. Together with our partner agencies, we employ sustainable strategies that address both the symptoms and the root causes of poverty. We take our mission and our relationships with our clients personally, as we all work together to help each individual realize their fullest potential!
"... I'm a witness that Head Start works. I have been employed for 40 years and I still maintain employment with Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) Head Start."Veronica Edmond, Head Start teacher, Pahokee, FL
In 1975, I became employed with the Palm Beach County Head Start as a single parent. My eight children also attended Head Start. In 1980, I gave birth to a 25-week-old baby boy weighing two pounds, who was born with all types of complications and was not expected to live. I had to take a leave of absence from work to learn how to care for him—the county granted it to me. My older children watched the struggle day-by-day, as I returned to work and furthered my education, along with caring for them. I was blessed with live-in nurses around-the-clock and that allowed me to continue my career, education, and parenting. Here is my success story: Because of Head Start, I have a daughter that changed her major and became a doctor; two daughters who are nurses; a son who's a concrete supervisor; a son who is a supervisor for Tire Plus; another son employed at Kmart for six years; another son who works in produce and last; but not least, my miracle son attends Seagull Industries for the Disabled where he can learn and earn. Therefore, I'm a witness that Head Start works. I have been employed for 40 years and I still maintain employment with Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) Head Start.
"With a hand up from programs like Head Start, I was able to graduate near the top of my Texas public high school class, from Stanford University, and from the Master in Business Administration program at San Francisco State."Oscar Dominguez, former Head Start student, Oakland, CA
Head Start has offset many of the challenges I faced early in my life, including a father in prison and a mother on welfare raising two boys in public housing. With a hand up from programs like Head Start, I was able to graduate near the top of my Texas public high school class, from Stanford University, and from the Master in Business Administration program at San Francisco State. Today, I work in a field where I can pay forward this type of empowerment, by administering programs that help people start and develop assets through entrepreneurship and self-employment. Thank you, Head Start!
"So many times, our Head Start parents focus on the well-being of their child, and many times neglect their own health and well-being."Janice G. Hill, Head Start employee, Southfield, MI
So many times, our Head Start parents focus on the well-being of their child, and many times neglect their own health and well-being. As a result, our Head Start Advisory Committee (HSAC) comprised of doctor's nurses, mental health providers, parents, and staff, decided to have a holistic fair, especially for our families. Several of our community partners came out and provided free dental screenings and nutrition information. A personal trainer came and provided parents with information and exercises they can do at home to stay fit. The highlight of the evening was our Zumba class. Parents enjoyed it tremendously. Water, juice, yogurt, and fresh fruit were provided as snacks. Our staff even took part in the Zumba classes. It was a blast!
"I am privileged to be part of a Head Start organization as an adult — an agency that changes lives, improves our community, and is dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other."CAPK San Joaquin County Early Head Start, Stockton, CA
My name is Rosalie Fernandez. I am the Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance (ERSEA) specialist for the Community Action Partnership of Kern San Joaquin County Early Head Start. I am a Head Start child. I attended the San Joaquin County Head Start Migrant preschool program at LAC in Stockton, California from 1983-1985. My parents were both seasonal cannery workers at that time. My fondest memory I have of my time in Head Start is playing in the dramatic play area. I remember there were so many things that we had in my home that my teacher brought them to my class so that we could play with them. I felt like such a "big girl" playing house with the other children in my class. I also remember circle time in the morning. We would sing a "Good Morning" song every morning. I am privileged to be part of a Head Start organization as an adult — an agency that changes lives, improves our community, and is dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other.
"Tulsa Educare, as a grantee, seeks to respectfully integrate our local culture into our schools, and each of our schools seeks to integrate their respective neighborhood culture into the program."Tulsa Educare, Inc., Tulsa, OK
Tulsa Educare, Inc. serves a very diverse population across our three schools in the city of Tulsa, OK. We have sought to integrate local culture into our practice in a holistic and individualized way. With many of our families residing within USDA recognized food deserts, Tulsa Educare seeks to integrate families with local culture and experiences surrounding food. Each school recruits groups of parents and accompanies them to the local farmer's market every weekend. The families are provided with food coupons to purchase fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables to help support healthy and nutritious living. The schools also have a Healthy Women Healthy Futures program that focuses on health and nutrition education, and even offers a Zumba exercise class taught by one of our family advocate staff members. Some of the nutrition classes for parents incorporate cooking experiences, providing parents with onsite demonstrations and a take-home bag of the raw ingredients needed to prepare the same meal with their children and families. The local food culture is also supported by our Fresh Friday's program, which provides donated fresh produce to our families, and our mobile grocery store which visits each school on a weekly basis. With our schools strategically located within a densely Hispanic population, a densely African-American single family household population, and near a high school, our schools have individualized themselves, respectively, to reflect and support their neighborhood culture. While one school offers ESL classes twice a week for our English Language Learners and provides all parent and family activities in both English and Spanish, another participates in the Martin Luther King Parade and places an increased emphasis on fatherhood engagement. Likewise, another school partners with the high school to support teen moms early within their pregnancy. Tulsa Educare, as a grantee, seeks to respectfully integrate our local culture into our schools, and each of our schools seeks to integrate their respective neighborhood culture into the program.
"ACDS, Inc. recognizes that culture isn't just a list of holidays or shared recipes, religious traditions, or language; it is a lived experience unique to each individual."Avoyelles Child Development Services (ACDS), Inc., Moreauville, LA
ACDS, Inc. recognizes that culture isn't just a list of holidays or shared recipes, religious traditions, or language; it is a lived experience unique to each individual. As educators, it's our job to stimulate the intellectual development of children, including multicultural experiences. Our program combines several approaches to make educated decisions about how to use multicultural curriculum in the classroom. In doing so, ACDS, Inc. encourages and validates family differences. Here are some of our ideas: One very simple way that our teachers can add multicultural ideas and content to the curriculum is by building a classroom library of multicultural literature. Another way we integrate culture is to encourage parent-oriented activities for students. This may be as simple as bringing in clothing and foods representing their culture and sharing with everyone. Also, field trips can be of value because they invigorate students. Local museums usually have exhibits highlighting cultural and ethnic influences of the local community, such as the Tunica Biloxi tribe in our parish. Guest speakers are another great source for teaching diversity; staff members invite people of all backgrounds from the community to speak to the children during functions held at their centers. These are some of the many things we do to incorporate diversity and cultural practices in our program.
"CSO Head Start has a yearly training for all employees on cultural sensitivity that includes a brief class on Spanish phrases that are useful to the staff."Community Services Office (CSO), Hot Springs, AR
CSO Head Start has a yearly training for all employees on cultural sensitivity that includes a brief class on Spanish phrases that are useful to the staff. The community relations coordinator brings in programs from different cultures to share with the children and make them feel more at home. Mariachi singers, American Indian (from local tribes) speakers, black heritage historians, and successful people from our different cultures are represented in our Head Start. Parents also bring ethnic or local foods, music, and stories into the classrooms. Celebrations of different cultures are held for Mexican Independence Day, Black Heritage, and American Indian Day; a Multicultural Week Celebration of many countries is also held. We have bilingual staff on campus, including a teacher who receives the majority of those students, and a case manager who also helps translate all documents needed and serves as a translator at programs or meetings, etc. Our male involvement group brings in local activities such as fishing and sporting events.
"I wanted to take time to celebrate these wonderful families and to show that Head Start impacts children and their families for a lifetime." Mary Jo Sattler, Head Start teacher, Hollywood, FL
Head Start makes a lifelong impact on families. I am honored to be a Head Start teacher for the last 11 years. Head Start creates an environment that supports and empowers a partnership between the family and school setting, all for the benefit of the child. The Mercado family is a perfect example. Mr. and Mrs. Mercado began with Head Start in the 2013-2014 school year, when their daughter Chloe entered at 4 years of age. This year their second daughter, Natalie entered when their third child was born.
These parents became an instant partner with Sheridan Park Elementary and donated over 200 hours of volunteer work. They were nominated for Volunteer of the year in Broward County, FL in 2014. These parents value education, attending parent workshops, policy council meetings, and school wide events. Recently, they created weekly hands-on science activities for the early childhood classes. They were renamed "Mr. and Mrs. Science" by the student body.
I met the Oliva family five years ago when their son Jorge entered Head Start. Their daughter, Yanalies, began two years later and this year, Julian started the 4-year-old class. I am so proud of this Head Start family. Life is a struggle but they know that the best that they can give their children is a wonderful education; so they moved next to the school and walk their children every day.
My class recently had a visit from a Head Start auditor from New Mexico. We spoke about how Head Start makes a difference. She suggested that I take the time to blog about these families. I wanted to take time to celebrate these wonderful families and to show that Head Start impacts children and their families for a lifetime.
"With encouragement and support from the teachers, I went to school and became a Head Start teacher." Vicki Schuelke, transportation coordinator and family service worker, Kingsford, MI
I attended Head Start in 1965. Two of my children attended Head Start. With encouragement and support from the teachers, I went to school and became a Head Start teacher. I am now the transportation coordinator and family service worker for the same Head Start program that I and my children graduated from. Thank you Head Start!
"I love my position and I am working very hard to help families that, like me, have goals and dreams." Enmely Rodriguez, social service worker, Miami, FL
I needed to start working and go to school but never had someone to help me with my daughter, until someone referred me to O'Farrill Learning Center Head Start Program. We stayed on a waiting list; and when they called me to inform me that my daughter was accepted, I cried out of happiness. When the school year started, I was always trying to be part of everything as a parent volunteer in all activities with the children. I volunteered in the office, classrooms, and I was part of the parent committee as a chairperson from 2012–2013. In 2013–2014, I was nominated from the parent committee as the policy committee secretary; and now, in 2014–2015, I am the governing board representative.
I had the chance to start working with the school as a part-time tutor in the after-school program. I was able to provide for my family while going to school; now, I am more than halfway done with my Associate degree. I have my daughter in kindergarten, still coming to the after-school, and my son started at the O'Farrill Learning Center Head Start Program now that he is 3 years old. I thank them every day for the opportunities they have offered me and my family, and like me, we have many families that need the help and the opportunities to grow as a person. I am always trying to keep myself active in the center as a volunteer and always give them the best of me. On November 2014, the position as a social service worker was open again. I applied with all the faith I was going to get it, since I had worked so hard to learn as much as I can in such a little time, and they hired me after interviews. I love my position and I am working very hard to help families that, like me, have goals and dreams. With just a little push and help, I can make a big difference in their life without them noticing, little by little.
"Head Start was my foundation for who I have become and for all that I will be. For that, I am truly grateful." Caitlin Manning, former Head Start student, Austin, TX
Hello, my name is Caitlin Manning and I am a proud Head Start Alumni! Here is a little about me now: I am now a senior at Sweeny High School (SHS) and I am in the National Honor Society, where I hold office as an historian. I have a GPA of 4.0 and have been taking college classes since my sophomore year in high school. I am also in my 4th year as a member of the Bulldog Belle dance team where I am the Belle Goodwill Ambassador; a third year as a Gridiron Girl; a member of Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) and the Clinical Nursing Program at SHS; Varsity Baseball Stat Girl (going into my 3rd year); and a member of Work Industry Training (WIT).
I am also a very active member of my church, Great Mount Zion and am also active in volunteering in our community in the following organizations: Salvation Army (Christmas Bell Ringer); Sweeny United, where we assist people in the community with home repairs and lawn work; Gulf Coast Blood Center, where I give blood quarterly; and the GMZ Education and Development Center, where I assist with preparing for our annual Dream Math/Science/Reading Camp for youth.
I am a proud Head Start alumni; I feel that it prepared me in many ways for a successful future—from learning in the classroom, manners and hygiene, making friends, and more. I still have a special love for my Head Start teacher, Mrs. Emily. I will never forget the positive impact she had on my life. And when I see her to this day, she remembers me and gives me the same reassurance and positive words.
Head Start was my foundation for who I have become and for all that I will be. For that, I am truly grateful. THANK YOU!!
"What you do does make a difference. Please keep doing what you do. I would not be standing here today, if it weren't for what I received at Head Start." Allie Guzman, former Head Start student, Weatherford, TX
Diane Gerber, the center director of Azle Head Start Child Development Center, wrote to tell us the inspiring story of Allie Guzman: I was a teacher assistant at Azle Head Start Child Development Center. We were told by our head office that we would be getting a new student who had multiple disabilities. Her prognosis was very poor, with her life expectancy somewhere around 15 years. She suffered from dwarfism, a cleft pallet, scoliosis, and several other health conditions that made her unable to do anything that a normal 3 year old should be able to do, such as feed herself, go to the bathroom, walk, or talk. I remember some of the teachers talking about how much individual time it was going to take to care for this little girl, and wondering if we would be able to provide what she would surely require.
I remember the day that Alejandrina Guzman came to the center for the first time. Her parents both accompanied her. Her mom was very shy and spoke only Spanish. Her dad spoke a little bit more English; he reluctantly revealed that he had been afraid to take Alejandrina out in public because people would stare at her and point, and he was embarrassed for his daughter and his wife. Both parents were reluctant to leave their daughter at Heat Start, on her third birthday, in the care of strangers. As soon as they were told that they were welcome to stay and volunteer at the center, they were more accepting and comfortable of letting their daughter enter into the Head Start program.
Allie cried all day. Her mom worried that she cried, but a teacher, Ms. Crocker assured her that this crying was normal for a child who had never been out of her mom's and dad's care, and to please let the teachers work with her. So, every day for a month, mom would bring Allie to school, she would stay to volunteer, and Allie would cry.
The teachers all loved to work with Martha, Allie's mom. She was learning to speak English in the same classroom as her daughter. She helped out with Allie, changing her diaper and helping to feed her. Allie eventually stopped crying every day, and began to enjoy coming to school. At first, leery of the other kids due to their size as compared to hers, she was shy and would pull away from interacting with them. Soon, however, she started smiling at them and trying to communicate as best she could.
During this first year at Azle, referrals were made and appointments were scheduled with the help of Head Start, to help address some of Alejandrina's physical problems. Her cleft pallet was repaired; her legs were straightened with braces, and she had spine surgery to help with her scoliosis. Allie went to many specialists during this time, including pulmonologists and gastroenterologists to help address her breathing and eating problems due to her very small stature. At age 3 she stood only 19 inches tall, the size of a new born.
After all the surgeries, Head Start, with the assistance and support of the United Way services, then arranged for physical therapists, speech therapists, and occupational therapists to come to the center to work with Allie. That little girl learned so fast; we were all amazed. In no time at all she was walking, at first with the aid of a walker, then on her own. She learned to talk, and special adaptive equipment was brought in to assist her with feeding herself, with potty training, doing art, and being very independent.
When she left Head Start to start kindergarten, she had stolen everyone's heart, and provided an inspiration as to what could be accomplished in the face of massive challenges, with the right support by caring people, such as the teachers and support staff at Head Start, Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), The United Way, Cooks Children's Health Care System, and Shriners Hospital. Allie was reading, writing, walking, and becoming more and more self-sufficient every day. Her confidence flourished, and she was a friend to all her classmates, a helper to her teachers and an outstanding student academically as well. She was on her way, and she had a good head start.
Allie started kindergarten and she progressed quickly. The next year, when Allie was in first grade, she returned to Azle Head Start as a volunteer. She came back to her roots and she read a book to each classroom there. She urged the kids to listen to their teachers, and to read a lot. It was a precious moment, and one I will always remember. "This is why we do what we do," I remember thinking at the time.
In the next several years, Allie's mom gave birth to three boys, all of whom attended the Azle Head Start center. Martha continued to be a regular volunteer, but stayed very active in Allie's activities as well. They have all gone on to public schools now, but visit us occasionally just to keep in touch. I am now the Center Director.
Throughout the years, I often would see Allie's picture in the local paper. First, as a pep-squad member, cheering on the local football team. Then, more recently, as the senior Homecoming Queen of Azle, an honor bestowed on her by her peers.
Alejandrina Guzman graduated from Azle High School in the top 10 percent of her class. I spoke to her and her parents and asked if Allie would possibly consider being a guest speaker, as a Head Start alumnus, at the Head Start in-service training conference in August. They all readily agreed. Allie addressed the teachers, teaching assistants, support staff, and management team during the opening day of the conference. Her message to one and all was the most important thing that they could hear: "What you do does make a difference. Please keep doing what you do. I would not be standing here today, if it weren't for what I received at Head Start."
Alejandrina is now attending college to become an attorney, and is currently an intern in a law office. She wants to help fight for the rights of disabled people. She is certainly a formidable person, and one I am glad to have on my side.
"I am thrilled that the program (Head Start) took off and that it is still going strong." Margaret Willis, former Head Start teacher
Greetings from England and congratulations on Head Start's 50th birthday.
You may be interested to know that I was a Head Start teacher at one of the five pioneer schools in 1965, organized by the White House. Mine was in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church on 6th Street, NW and I had 40 children in the morning and 40 in the afternoon, with two teachers and two aides, a cook, and a caretaker. I was hired by Mr. Norman Nickens, who approved my English nursery credentials, and the two years I spent at the school (my husband's work then transferred us to Japan) were wonderful and special. I loved each and every one of those children and their mothers, and we had many good times together.
I am thrilled that the program took off and that it is still going strong. Congratulations!
"My family has learned to achieve so much because of the help and support Head Start has offered." Nancy Muniz, former Head Start parent and current Head Start employee, Stockton, CA
The Head Start mission and vision has continued to help many families accomplish so much in life. I was a former Head Start parent who became a family service worker and I am now in the Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance (ERSEA) Department. Head Start continues to be a driving force for success in my life. My family has learned to achieve so much because of the help and support Head Start has offered. The impact my child's educators have made was immensely beneficial toward my child's school readiness, health, and disability. The amount of family engagement I was able to experience while in Head Start has allowed me to achieve my goal in obtaining my bachelor of arts in psychology, obtain a career, and encourage the importance of an educational foundation for my children. I am proud to be a part of the continued mission and thankful for the Head Start program. Head Start works!
"I fell in love with the program (Head Start) and for the last 50 years, I have been involved in one way or another with it." Linda Dale, former Head Start employee, Iron Mountain, MI
In 1965, I was attending high school and was working on the summer work study program. I was assigned to the summer Head Start program which had just been started. I fell in love with the program and for the last 50 years, I have been involved in one way or another with it. I went into the classroom with my neighbor's children whenever I had a day off of school and volunteered from time to time.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I lived near one of the bus drivers who called me to be a bus aide when she didn't have one. When someone got sick, I was hired. I held the positions of bus aide, bus driver, assistant classroom coordinator, classroom coordinator, home visitor, and family and community partnership coordinator. I retired two years ago, but am still subbing and filing in.
I have seen wonderful things come out of this program for children and families, including my own. My grandson was born with a cleft palette and attended Head Start. One year, my mother subbed for us; I worked here; my daughter volunteered; and my grandson was enrolled. I continue to recruit for the program, because I have a strong belief in all the benefits it provides for families and children.
"She (my daughter) lives what Head Start is about in making sure families get the best knowledge about the environment and health and safety, and that they know their rights and exercise their power as intelligent and capable human beings and families." Barbara Becker, former Head Start parent
My daughter, Monica Mariko Embrey, now 28, was always a creative and spirited Head Start child. I honored her uniqueness with the help of Christopher House Head Start in Chicago, IL. Her treatment as unique, intelligent, and creative allowed us to weather more restrictive classrooms and educational environments as she entered school; she grew up to be a leader in the movement to bring solar power to low-income communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. She lives what Head Start is about in making sure families get the best knowledge about the environment and health and safety, and that they know their rights and exercise their power as intelligent and capable human beings and families.
"The Head Start program has not only been there for my children, but they have also been there for me—allowing me to succeed, further than I ever dreamed possible." Sandra I. Espinel, former Head Start parent and current grantee specialist, Orlando, FL
My name is Sandra I. Espinel and I have worked with the Head Start program for over 26 years. I began working as a volunteer in 1988 when I enrolled my daughter, Alexandra I. Espinel, in the Head Start program in Orlando, FL. In 1989, I began working as a teacher's aide for the Orange County Commissioner Head Start in Orlando, FL. As a parent, I am grateful to have had this program in our lives. It offered a comprehensive early education for both, my daughter and my youngest son. I learned, early on, that Head Start not only provided services to the children, but it also provided services to the parents. Head Start empowered me as a parent to be successful in life. I participated as the president of the parent committee and also was a member of the Policy Council.
The Orange County Head Start staff not only encouraged me, but they gave me an opportunity to start an education, which allowed me to thrive. With the support of my daughter's teachers, Ms. Loretta Alexis and Ms. Minnie Shropshire and the education manager, which at the time was Ms. Ollie Johnson, I proudly moved up the chain as the following: volunteer; substitute teacher's aide; teacher aide; teacher's assistant; teacher; center manager, and the quality assurance coordinator. Currently, I am a grantee specialist with the Region IV Head Start Training and Technical Assistance network. I provide training and technical assistance in the area of program and design management to eight different states, ensuring they are compliant in the Head Start management systems and procedures. At the beginning of my career, when I started working in Head Start as a teacher's aide, I was encouraged to apply for a teacher position and that's when I completed my Child Development Associate (CDA).
While working full time as a Head Start center manager, I earned my bachelor's of arts in public administration at the University of Central Florida. I then began working toward my next educational goal, and in 2006 I earned my master's degree at Webster University in management and leadership. I am currently working toward my doctorate in early childhood education. I also currently teach as a professor at the Ana G. Mendez University, the only dual language university in the state of Florida. I have been there since 2010. The Head Start program has not only been there for my children, but they have also been there for me—allowing me to succeed, further than I ever dreamed possible. Thank you, Head Start!
"Instead of investing Head Start dollars in a rental property, it's going into an agency that will benefit the community in a larger way, and we were able to increase the number of children they could serve." Pamela Black, The Family Conservancy (TFC) Head Start director, Kansas City, KS
Lee Howell beams with excitement as she describes the final stages of the extensive improvements that are being made to the garden-level space her center will soon occupy.
The process began when Howell, the owner of Little Land of Love Learning Center, attended a recruitment event hosted by The Family Conservancy (TFC) and decided to partner with TFC to provide Early Head Start services at her program. Discussions began about facility issues and it became apparent that the best plan would be to move the facility. The old location is small, dark, a rental property, and in need of extensive improvements.
"When we first met with Little Land of Love Learning Center director and staff, it was apparent that they truly cared for the children in their care and were already serving the families Early Head Start is wanting to reach. They did the best they could to provide high-quality care, but their facility and available funds were limited," explained TFC Head Start Director Pamela Black.
The new space, which will be renamed "The Rock at Stony Point," is available through a partnership with The Rock Church of the Nazarene and upgraded with an investment from the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships start up funds. It is a true community collaboration. Black explains why the move was the right choice: "Instead of investing Head Start dollars in a rental property, it's going into an agency that will benefit the community in a larger way, and we were able to increase the number of children they could serve."
With the improvements, the center will more than double their capacity, increasing from 23 to 50 children. Seven of the additional spaces will serve infants and toddlers, an especially high need in the Kansas City, KS community.
"We get calls almost everyday; even if we had both locations, we wouldn't have enough room to meet demand. Many of the families in this community have multiple children and it's important to be able to keep them together, especially for infants," noted Howell.
The space was transformed in just two months by a small business, W.J.R. Plumbing and More—new tile was laid; fresh paint was applied; walls were erected to provide sound barriers; changing stations and sinks were installed; kitchen appliances were replaced; the heating and cooling system was replaced; new windows were installed; a toddler-friendly restroom was added; additional restrooms were updated; equipment and furniture was secured, and a fenced-in playground was added.
The partnership has yielded a much-needed space with the capacity to serve families with children ranging from infants to age 12 and provide a nurturing environment where children, 98 percent of whom are growing up with the challenges of poverty, have daily support to ensure they grow up healthy and ready for school.
"From my experience as a Head Start parent, I bring empathy to my role within the agency." Kelly Compton, preschool/school-age education coordinator, the Council on Rural Services, Logan County, OH
When I first read about Head Start in the newspaper, I was 23 years old. I had already been married for almost four years and was the mother of a 3 year old and a 1 year old. I was and still am very passionate about the success of my children.
Head Start would be just that—a head start for their learning. Each child would have their own unique experience in Head Start. My daughter's outgoing nature helped her ease quickly into the preschool environment and the teachers nurtured her eagerness to always be learning. This fostered in her a drive to be a lifelong learner and supported her in having a successful public school experience.
My son, on the other hand, gave the teachers a true run for their money. He struggled with self-regulation, focus, and attention. Even though he was challenging, they saw through his behaviors and found his great sense of humor and his overwhelming curiosity about the world. The Head Start teachers helped discover he was a kinesthetic learner and found ways to engage him to encourage focus and attention. This positive support would serve him well, as he moved through the public school system. Although, the original idea was to help the children, Head Start ended up helping me just as much.
The Head Start teachers saw something in me that I had not sensed myself yet: an aptitude and passion for early childhood education. They encouraged me to volunteer, be involved in the parent group and Policy Council, and finally, to apply for a position with Head Start in Hardin County, OH. After several years of working there and at a local daycare, I applied for an assistant teacher position with the Council on Rural Services, the Head Start agency in Logan County, OH and eight other counties.
I literally "grew up" with Head Start and the Council on Rural Services. The assistant teacher position was just the tip of the iceberg for me. The Council on Rural Services employs many dedicated people who embody the Head Start early childhood education philosophy and impacted my professional career, in addition to my life as a whole. Throughout the past 15 years with Council on Rural Services and Head Start, I have been encouraged and supported to complete my associate's degree, and then my Bachelor's degree along with gaining positions within the agency of increasing responsibility. It has been a journey from assistant to head teacher, then area coordinator, and finally the position I now hold as preschool/school age education coordinator for all nine counties.
From my experience as a Head Start parent, I bring empathy to my role within the agency. I can honestly say: "I know what you are going through," or "I know how you feel" to parents of the children we serve. I have walked in the low-income shoes, young parent shoes, and parent-of-a-challenging-child shoes. I know the joys and upsets of being a parent. I also have learned the value of advocacy. Not only did I advocate for my own children, but for other children as well, because all children deserve equal opportunities to grow, learn, and succeed and have dedicated adults to stand up and make the children's voices heard.
From all the people who have enriched my life and career I have learned to lead by example and share the experience and knowledge with others. I endeavor every day to support and share my experience with peers and new staff members, as others have done for me through example and mentorship.
By the way, my children have grown up too. My daughter is now a wife and mother to our first grandchild. She has put her career in early childhood education on hold to be full time with her son in these formative years. My son will soon become a shift supervisor at a nearby manufacturing facility. We have all benefited from the wonderful experiences we had and continue to have with Head Start!
"When I found out that I will now be trained as a Head Start teacher, I was overjoyed!" Ann Sullivan, Head Start teacher, Lexington, VA
My father John Lindstrom, a pastor at the Mount Vernon Methodist Church in 1963, helped to bring Head Start to Washington, DC, along with Judith Viorst, the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. The classroom was in the National Presbyterian Church in DC. I was one of the students to attend the very first class. My father was always concerned about meeting the needs of inner city families and was so proud of this accomplishment.
Now, as a mother of six beautiful daughters who are married with 13 grandchildren, I understand firsthand the importance of early education opportunities. After being a stay-at-home mom for 21 years, I went into the public schools as a teacher's assistant in special education, in northern Virginia. After moving here to Lexington, VA, I got a job in a local Montessori school for four years. I found my niche in working with pre-toddler age children and thrived! I have now accepted a job as a lead teacher for Infant II (12-18 month olds) at Yellow Brick Road here in Lexington. When I found out that I will now be trained as a Head Start teacher, I was overjoyed! It's all come full circle and I know my daddy is looking down from heaven rejoicing in this opportunity for me to "pass on the baton" and help to make a difference in my community!
"Head Start gave us (my husband and I) both the initial tools we needed to become good students and successful professionals." Stephanie Gaines-Bryant, radio news anchor and former Head Start student, Bowie, MD
I was a Head Start student in Vauxhall, NJ, back in 1965 when the program began. I don't remember much about the experience, but I do know it was my first formal educational experience and it helped prepare me for the road ahead.
My name is Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. I am the sixth of seven children born to Fletcher and Louise Gaines. Education was always extremely important in my family, so my parents were more than happy to give me a "head start" by allowing me to attend the program. I am also the sixth of seven to graduate from college. The following year I began my journey as one of the first African Americans to go from kindergarten to 12th grade in the newly integrated Union, NJ School system. The early years were difficult and confusing, but thanks to a supportive, loving family, I made it.
After graduating from Union High School in 1979, I attended Hampton Institute in Hampton, VA where I studied communications. I graduated with a degree in Mass Media Arts in 1983. I later received a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University. For the last 25 years, I have worked as a radio news anchor—mostly in the Washington, DC area. I am currently a weekend news anchor for WTOP Radio, Washington's only all-news station. During my years as a talk show host for WHUR-FM, I interviewed hundreds of healthcare professionals and developed an interest in health and wellness. I am also an avid jogger. I turned that interest into a small business. I own and operate Radio Yoga Health and Fitness, a yoga business in Bowie, MD. I also founded a nonprofit called Sisters4Fitness, an organization committed to reducing the rate of obesity among African-American women. I am the mother of four children, Richard Jr., 17, Christian and Kendall, 14, and Gabriel, 12. My husband, Richard Bryant Sr., was also a Head Start kid in St. Louis, MO back in 1970. He is only the eighth African American in the history of the U.S. Navy to command a nuclear submarine. Head Start gave us both the initial tools we needed to become good students and successful professionals. Thanks.
"Head Start gave me the chance to advance within our agency, which in turn made me become a more confident, dedicated person" Sheila Pickel, early childhood supervisor, Reedsburg, WI
Head Start helped me to become the person I am today. I started out by being a parent volunteer with my first son, then continued on volunteering with my second son. During a home visit in the fall of 1983, the teacher assistant at that time asked if I would be interested in a substitute bus driver job. It took a lot of persuading to convince me I would be a good candidate. I grew up in a very large family and spent most of my time helping my father on the farm and my mother in the house. I was number seven out of 10 children. We always played school, and of course, I was the teacher. In high school, I worked as a tutor for children who needed extra help in certain subjects. From that point on, I always wanted to be a teacher. But I had one downfall: I was so shy I was afraid to talk in front of people and had a hard time approaching people.
I got married right out of high school and was blessed with three beautiful children. All three of my children had the privilege to attend Head Start, which helped me grow socially by giving me a chance to meet other parents and be part of their team. From the time I was offered the sub bus driver job to now, I climbed what I called "the ladder of success." My journey started out as being hired as the sub bus driver, and then bus driver, nutrition aide, teacher assistant, teacher director, director of the Reedsburg Area Learning Center, family advocate 0–5 and assistant director, home-based educator 3–5, and, currently, early childhood supervisor.
I graduated from Madison Area Technical College with a two-year Associate degree in Early Childhood in 2004. I was the first one out of my family to attend a college. Without the financial and moral support of our Head Start agency, my coworkers, and family, I do not think I would have been able to attend and finish my degree. Just this past summer, I graduated from Ashford University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, in which I made the dean's list. I could never have done this without the support from my Head Start Agency, coworkers and my family. I look back to where I started my journey as a shy girl afraid to say anything, to where I am today. I enjoy speaking in front of a group of people and knowing that it is okay to make mistakes, as that is how we learn. Head Start gave me the chance to advance within our agency, which in turn made me become a more confident, dedicated person. I have been employed with Renewal Unlimited, Inc. now for 28 years. Thank you, Head Start, for helping me become the professional I am today!
"What a waste of human potential it would have been if the Head Start professionals hadn't searched for Mrs. M's subtle strengths, gradually nurtured her self-confidence, and helped to educate all three of her children!"Dr. Glenna Zeak
Portrait of a Head Start Parent
Mrs. M was the mother of three children between the ages of 1 and 3. She spent most of her days at home, tending her children, and looking forward to the afternoon soaps. Mrs. M was also the wife of an abusive alcoholic. She often prayed that her husband would come home and pass out on the couch, but most of the time she would get a beating instead. One afternoon, a Head Start representative came to visit. Mrs. M was embarrassed not only by her bruised and battered appearance, but also by the condition of her house. Dust and clutter were not the major problems; her house was literally falling apart. Mrs. M thought about the hole in her bathroom floor from which the basement below was clearly visible. Mrs. M pictured in her mind's eye several places in the walls that her husband had punched through and hoped that the visitor from Head Start would not ask to come in.
Thankfully, she didn't. They talked at the door instead. The woman introduced herself as Ruth Anne and mentioned that she knew there were young children in the home who might be eligible for Head Start. Mrs. M's eldest child would be 3 in November, so she was old enough to begin Head Start. If the child was enrolled, she would be picked up by bus three days a week and spend three hours a day in a preschool classroom. Mrs. M was delighted. This program promised to make her life a bit easier. After all, caring for two children would be easier than managing three. Mrs. M accepted Ruth Anne's invitation and consented to have her child begin the program. As the months went by, her eldest girl seemed really to enjoy going to school.
One afternoon, the phone rang, and the woman on the other end of line identified herself as Romaine, the parent involvement coordinator from Head Start. Romaine invited Mrs. M to come to the center the following Tuesday to meet with a group of parents who were planning a Christmas party for the children. Mrs. M. declined, saying she was far too busy that day. Then, after hanging up the telephone, the young mother returned to the sofa. A month later, Romaine called again. She mentioned that the parent group still needed help with the Christmas party and offered to provide child care for the babies if Mrs. M would agree to participate. The meeting was to be held the following Tuesday in a local church basement. Reluctantly, Mrs. M. attended. She observed briefly, and when it seemed as if little was being accomplished, Mrs. M offered some suggestions that sparked a productive conversation. Everyone appeared to relax with one another, and a successful party was planned.
Mrs. M felt pretty proud of herself. Not only had she spoken up, but the other parents had listened, and her opinion had been valued. She was glad she had come. Before the meeting ended, Romaine requested that this group of parents meet on a monthly basis to plan other activities for the children and to provide mutual support for the participants. Romaine also suggested that the group elect a committee chairperson, and Mrs. M was elected. Mrs. M was elated, yet worried about what her husband would say. Would he let her participate? Despite her concerns, Mrs. M accepted the responsibility and resolved to do well. After the meeting, the new committee chairperson was elected to the role of something called Policy Council representative. This was the decision-making board of the program, consisting of parents, the Head Start director, and community representatives. The thought was a bit overwhelming, but Romaine assured Mrs. M that she could simply observe the first few times. Romaine also expressed confidence that the young mother could handle the responsibility and excel in her new role.
As she considered all of this, Mrs. M decided simply to tell her husband about her plans. After all, he wasn't home during the day. That evening, when she nervously brought up the subject and broke her big news, her husband was too drunk to take much notice. On the day of the Policy Council meeting, Mrs. M observed as planned, but not for long. Someone noticed that she had been busy writing notes all through the meeting, and with that, Mrs. M was selected as secretary for the group. Although Mrs. M had always been a very quiet, introverted person, and her self-esteem had reached an all-time low of late, her personality began to change with her involvement in Head Start. Throughout the year, Mrs. M continued to serve as Policy Council representative and to work on several additional committees. The following year, with her second child enrolled at Head Start, Mrs. M became even more involved. That year, the Policy Council elected Mrs. M state representative and Policy Council chairperson. This meant she would attend the state-level meetings and be responsible for sharing and obtaining information for Blair County Head Start. As Mrs. M met those new challenges, her confidence in herself continued to grow. Another year passed by, and Mrs. M's youngest child was enrolled in Head Start. Mrs. M was again elected Policy Council chairperson, continued as the state representative, and became a national representative for Head Start. This meant a trip to a national conference in Colorado, an experience that proved to be an awakening for her.
While she was away from all of the stress of home for a week, with the children cared for by Grandma, Mrs. M realized she did not have to live in an abusive environment. She saw that she was worthwhile and valued. At the conference, she promised herself to make major changes for her children's sake as well as for her own. On her return home, Mrs. M secretly planned to file for divorce but wanted to wait for the "right time." That time came all too soon, when one of her husband's episodes of violence lasted for hours. All the while, she held on, determined that this would be the last time she would ever endure this treatment. She turned to Head Start for help, and Romaine arrived and guided Mrs. M and her children through every step, from hospital to lawyer to shelter. Her life as the wife of an abusive alcoholic had ended, but her life as a Head Start teacher had just begun.
In the fall, she enrolled at the Pennsylvania State University, where she received her undergraduate degree in early childhood education. She returned to Head Start as a teacher, hoping to repay a debt of gratitude by giving families the care and support her family had experienced from the moment that Ruth Ann, the Head Start representative, had first knocked at the door. As a result of her firsthand experiences in Head Start, Mrs. M knew that the parent involvement practices of Head Start had much more to offer families. She had learned an important lesson; every successful parent involvement effort is built on sincerity, friendship, and a non-judgmental attitude. Even when the parents of children in her class did not choose to be involved in Head Start in ways that she had hoped, Mrs. M did not assume lack of interest or laziness. Instead, she thought about how different her own life might have been if Head Start staff hadn't taken the time to draw her out and seek a variety of ways to include her. What a waste of human potential it would have been if the Head Start professionals hadn't searched for Mrs. M's subtle strengths, gradually nurtured her self-confidence, and helped to educate all three of her children!
In her interactions with parents, Mrs. M sought to keep in touch with the feelings she had experienced when first approached by Head Start personnel; embarrassment about her living conditions, fear of failure, a low self-concept, and anguish about her family's situation. Over the years, Mrs. M grew to understand Head Start from both sides, first as a parent and later as a teacher. In the spring, she began working toward her master's degree in early childhood education so that she could continue to learn and develop as a professional. Every detail of Mrs. M's life described in this Head Start's story is true. I know, because I am the former Mrs. M. (Zeak & Reneck-Jalongo, 1996)
"By teaching those crucial skills, programs like Head Start level what is otherwise an uneven playing field, while at the same time providing students with the head start they need not just to compete but to win."Dr. George Henson, former Head Start student
"Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candlestick."
I can remember reciting that nursery rhyme as if it were yesterday. It was the summer of 1965, and I was a rambunctious 4-year-old. Daddy had just been discharged after a career in the Army, and he moved Mama and us kids—three boys and two girls—from La Rochelle, France to Ralston, OK, a tiny town that lay along the Arkansas River in Pawnee County.
I arrived in Ralston speaking French and English but not knowing my ABCs. Because I was supposed to start kindergarten in the fall, Mama was worried that I would be behind the other children, so she considered delaying kindergarten for a year so I could catch up. Then someone told her about a new program called Head Start.
I, of course, didn't know what Head Start was. I just knew that I would be going to school. I don't remember everything we did—50 years is a long time ago—but I do remember how much fun I had coloring, pasting, singing songs, counting, and, of course, learning my ABCs. During these "fun" activities, unbeknownst to us, we were learning valuable social, cognitive, and linguistic skills.
At the end of the eight weeks, there was to be a graduation program, in which I would recite "Jack Be Nimble" before jumping over an unlit candlestick. My sister Gwen, who was a teacher's aide, worked with me at home, sometimes past my bedtime, teaching me my lines. The recitation of that nursery rhyme may seem insignificant, but that moment represented the beginning of what would become my lifelong relationship with literature, which I now teach and translate.
After finishing Head Start, ABCs firmly learned, I was ready to conquer kindergarten. Because Daddy was always looking for a better job, we moved a lot throughout elementary school, sometimes twice during the school year. The anxiety of adjusting to a new school, to new classmates, and to a new curriculum was eased, however, by my love of learning. When I reached junior high, we finally settled in one place; and during my sophomore year in high school, my hard work and good grades caught the attention of a teacher, Mrs. Davis, who talked to me for the first time about going to college. For the next three years, she counseled me on where to apply, how to fill out the applications, and what to write in my admission essay.
During one of our counseling sessions, I mentioned I had attended Head Start. Through her, I learned that Head Start began as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty. Until then, I had never thought of us as having been poor. When you're a kid, and everyone else around you is poor, you have nothing to judge poverty by. As the youngest boy, I was used to wearing my brothers' hand-me-downs. Daddy and Mama worked hard, always putting us kids first, doing whatever was necessary so that we would at least graduate from high school, a privilege the Depression had denied them.
When I began college at 17, I was not only young for my class, I carried the additional challenge of being a first-generation college student. I was determined, however, to be the first member of my family to graduate from university. Through perseverance and determination, I graduated. Over 30 years and three degrees later, I am profoundly aware of the life-changing power of education.
As a college professor, I understand the challenges that low-income and minority students face. I also know that that success in college is determined in large part by the language and cognitive skills that are developed early in life, skills that low-income children are at a greater risk of not developing. By teaching those crucial skills, programs like Head Start level what is otherwise an uneven playing field, while at the same time providing students with the head start they need not just to compete but to win.
Just ask the boy who was nimble and quick and jumped over the candlestick in 1965 in that Head Start program in Ralston, OK.
Dr. George Henson is a senior lecturer of Spanish at the University of Texas at Dallas. In addition to teaching, Dr. Henson is a translator of four books and dozens of short stories and essays by some of Latin America's most prominent writers. His latest book, a translation of Sergio Pitol's The Art of Flight, was released in March. This story is crossposted from the ACF Family Room blog.
"I walked her (my daughter) to Head Start every morning and I went to classes to get my GED while she was there. Thank you to all the wonderful people that helped me with her, especially Mr. Tisdale." Michelle Michaud, former Head Start parent, Bridgeport, CT
I was a young mother in the early 1970s. With the help of Mr. Robert Grant, Mr. Tisdale, and ABCD, my daughter Shelley went to Head Start in Bridgeport, CT on Park Avenue and Fairfield Avenue. I walked her to Head Start every morning and I went to classes to get my GED while she was there. Thank you to all the wonderful people that helped me with her, especially Mr. Tisdale. My daughter went on to get a degree in sociology from Sacred Heart University and works for Bright Horizons Family Solutions. She is now 44 years old.
"I am proud to be a Heart employee and continue the legacy of knowledge Head Start planted on me." Josefina Ramos, former Head Start parent and current family support specialist, Phoenix, AZ
My name is Josefina Ramos, and I want to share my experience with how Head Start made a difference in my life and in the lives of my daughters. My daughters, Esmeralda and Jacqueline, started Head Start back in 2002 at Westside Head Start in El Paso, TX. Since then, Head Start opened many doors for us. I started going back to school thanks to Head Start support and motivation. I graduated in 2007 as a social worker. My children were successful during their school-age years. They got many awards and scholarships at Vilas Elementary school where they attended, and all thanks to the strong base they got at Head Start. Today, Jacqueline and Esmeralda are in college. Esmeralda traveled around the world with the forensic program she was part of, and Jacqueline is enrolled at ASU majoring in business administration. I was a parent of Head Start, and now I am a Head Start staff. I started working at Head Start in March 2009. I am proud to be a Heart employee and continue the legacy of knowledge Head Start planted on me. Head Start made a difference in my life and I want to make the difference in the lives of the families I serve with love and vocation for what I do, and with respect and empathy to all families.
"I love my job as the Head Start teacher here in McDowell County. I love the families and children we serve each day!" Lolita Armstrong, Head Start teacher, McDowell County Head Start, Morganton, NC
Head Start has made me what I am today—starting from 1989, when my last daughter attended the Head Start program in McDowell County. I attended with her as a parent volunteer. Under the supervision of Ms. Diane Brooks and Ms. Toni McKinney, my child's teachers, I was molded and showed the way to become the best parent and teacher I could be to my child. With tears in my eyes and now under the supervision of our Head Start director Peggy Freeman, along with other management staff, Head Start keeps me strong. I love my job as the Head Start teacher here in McDowell County. I love the families and children we serve each day! Twenty-five years with Head Start ... I thank my God!
"I can truly say, that if you invest in our young, it WILL pay off!" Frankie Caldwell, Head Start graduate, Manhattan, NY
Head Start entered my life when I was 3-5 years old, in 1973 to 1975. Not only did this program lay the foundation, and give me that "Head Start," I succeeded through high school, undergraduate school, and graduate school, where I'm currently in a doctorate program. In addition to my education success, I've given back to my community by serving as an elementary teacher, working in classrooms that many people have admitted they would stay away from regardless of the pay.
My mother also volunteered with Head Start, until staff members persuaded her to join their team. She served with Head Start from 1973 to 1977, and participated in many meetings around New York and other states. To this day, her plaque serves as a reminder that her time with Head Start was valuable and appreciated! Even to this day, I keep in contact with my Head Start teacher who is retired, but very active in the Harlem area of New York City.
As you can see, I truly respect all this organization has given to my family and me. Currently, my goal is to continue with my education; search for a position with Head Start, where I can work for this extremely important organization; and return my service to a program that laid that solid foundation 42 years ago. I can truly say, that if you invest in our young, it WILL pay off!
"I never would have thought that I would get a chance to work with such an amazing role model who taught me to become the person I am today." Bridgette Santy, Head Start teacher, Berlin, NH
This year, I began teaching at Berlin, NH Head Start. The best part is that I am working side-by-side in the same classroom with my own Head Start teacher from 18 years ago! I never would have thought that I would get a chance to work with such an amazing role model who taught me to become the person I am today. I realize that we both have the same mindset in the classroom and that makes for the best classroom memories ever! This picture is from a 1997/1998 family conference/home visit. Now we are working together 18 years later, in the same building where I first attended!
"I found it a pleasure to work in Head Start. I learned as the students learned. The job provided me with my first experience in developing and using leadership skills with others." Annette Holliday Fulton Cornish, retired Head Start teacher, director, and administrator, New Castle DE
I am one of Delaware's first Head Start teachers. I worked in the first Head Start six-week pilot program in Wilmington, DE, in 1965 during the summer. I then became head teacher in the six-month program located in one room at an elementary school in January 1966. I then went on to attend the first Head Start Training Program for head teachers, during the summer of 1966, at Hood College in Fredrick, MD.
I became director of the first full year Head Start program located in the Marshallton Elementary School in Wilmington, DE, in September 1966 to June 1967. There, I had three classrooms and a secretary. Each class room had a teacher and one aid with 21 students.
I am now a retired educator of 42 years—working with other people's children and giving them much tough love. This all started with Head Start and lasted all the way to college level, as I demonstrated the ways and means to learn, make decisions, demonstrate proper behavior at all times, and work with others. I also showed children how to show respect for themselves and others, how to follow directions, the importance of being a good listener, and how to explore and experience food for the betterment of growth. This is what my Head Starters and their parents learned. I found it a pleasure to work in Head Start. I learned as the students learned. The job provided me with my first experience in developing and using leadership skills with others. Thank you Head Start!
"I am appreciative of the school districts, but Head Start creates bonds with families the school districts will never be able to have." Christina Leary, human resources director, Tri-County Community Action Inc., Carthage, TX
As long as I can remember, the Head Start program helped my family be citizens when other Americans would give a family like mine a daily cold shoulder. You see, growing up we didn't have any running water or efficient lighting in our house. However, I can remember being in Head Start and being taught the value of learning. When I entered elementary school I was considered a gifted student. My mom had the option of allowing me to advance to the first grade, but chose to let me go through with my yearly pattern of going to the next level.
My teachers were always so giving and encouraging. I never looked at myself as being poor or not having the necessities in life, because I didn't see myself as different. Growing up in poverty was not always a bad thing. I may have worn hand me downs, but I learned to appreciate my life and the things that I could have in the future.
Being a single mom was hard. However, I didn't see Head Start as daycare but an opportunity for my son to advance because of the odds that are against him before he turns 18 years old. The dropout rates for black males are high, so whatever advancement in learning he can receive would be great. Because my son attended Head Start his reading level was above the requirement and he could read books beyond his grade level. My son is now 16 and he's probably smarter than what he needs to be. (Thanks Head Start!! "Smile").
I made a career change in 2011. I went from a Fortune 500 job to a nonprofit position—big change in career advancement and pay but my life changed. Even though I grew up on "commodity cheese" and the "famous peanut butter," I never knew what it was like on the other side. I was just a person in line trying to get some food.
Since working at Tri-County, I have learned what it means to serve the community, to operate in greatness, and to give when you have nothing left to give. We serve over 626 families and children, and I love the excitement a parent has when they see their child learning beyond their capabilities. It's like just for a moment, the feeling of poverty leaves them and they feel as if they belong in society. I am appreciative of the school districts, but Head Start creates bonds with families the school districts will never be able to have.
I started working at the Head Start Program with just a high school diploma. I was inspired to continue my education, and in 2014, I received my B.A. in organizational management. I started graduate school in November and hope to have it completed by March 2016. Who would have thought that a young girl who attended Head Start and lived in poverty with no running water would be where I am today. Now, I have water that will never run dry.
"I believe that programs such as Head Start gave my family and me the foundation to succeed in school." Irma Morales, Willowbrook School District, summer 1967
I attended Head Start from June 26, 1967 to Aug. 11, 1967 in the Willowbrook School District—the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County (Compton, CA is the closest city). I still have the certificate that I was given. It has the stamped signature of Lady Bird Johnson.
I come from a family of 10 children and I am the youngest. We moved to the Willowbrook/Compton area in 1965. I believe that programs such as Head Start gave my family and me the foundation to succeed in school. Out of the 10 of us, six have bachelor degrees, three have master's degrees, and three are military veterans. All my family are avid readers and that is why one of us was destined to become a librarian. I have a sister who is a retired kindergarten teacher and all of my family have held jobs that give back to the community. I currently am a supervisor and librarian in a public library. I support early learning and literacy practices and promote these important ideas in the library every day. In 2008, I was able to go to Washington, DC for the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) Program Excellence Honors for working with our local Head Start program, Orange Children and Parents Together (OCPT) to "Link Up for Literacy" project.
"I am a firm believer that Head Start works." Nancy Kessay, Head Start family and community partnership manager, and Sabastian Kessay, former Head Start student, Fort Apache Head Start, Whiteriver, AZ
I want to share a story about my experience with Head Start. I am a firm believer that Head Start works. My mom started with a Head Start Tribal Program in 1965. She went from classroom teacher to assistant director. I eventually ended up working for a tribal program as well where all my children attended. I was in the classroom for six years and then moved on to other opportunities in the community.
In 2000, I received my degree and moved to the Mesa, AZ area. I obtained a position with Maricopa County Head Start as a site director. Seven years later, I felt the urge to move up and became an area supervisor with the program. This past June, I moved up to the position of family and community partnership manager. I have also had eight of my 15 grandchildren attend the Head Start program. This past June, an article was done on my oldest grandson who attended two years of Head Start on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, AZ:
"Native professional athletes are emerging across the United States, with many like Notah Begay and Shoni Schimmel adding their names to this elite group with the legendary Billy Mills. In recent years, the growth of Begay and Schimmel has ignited Native fans from tribal communities, inspiring tribal youth and bringing pride to tribal households. Emerging into this list of esteemed athletes is White Mountain Apache tribal member, Sabastian Kessay. Kessay comes from the small community of Hon-Dah, located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Coming from rural Arizona, Kessay has accomplished a great deal for a 21-year-old professional pitcher. His ultimate goal is to lead by example and pursue his dream of playing in major league baseball. Kessay stated: "We all have goals for ourselves. I am focused and train hard daily because no matter what we do professionally we have to grow. My career is not a matter of luck. It is a matter of skill and dedication. Growing myself into a professional athlete is dependent upon myself, my dedication to the sport, my dedication to perfecting my technique and my desire to continue to move forward. I am blessed that every day, I wake up and play baseball. It doesn't get any better than that. I am very proud to say that I play professional baseball, and I am honored that my experience has taken me to places I have never been before."
As an emerging athlete, Kessay hopes to not only become an inspiration to youth on the reservation, but also an inspiration to youth in rural areas. His vision is to become the spark that ignites the flame in the hearts of youth to become who they really want to become, and to demonstrate to youth that he is living proof that hard work, self-determination and focusing on dreams pays off. Coming from a rural and isolated tribal community, Kessay can relate to today's youth, knowing that he shares the same roots, same beginnings, and same struggles. Kessay says: "I hope that I bring a sense of pride to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, and I hope that my story inspires others."
"Local businesses, corporations, churches, municipalities, school groups, and neighbors are recruited for community engagement by our tireless social services staff." Head Start Community Program of Morris County, Inc., NJ
In a community collaboration spanning more than a decade, our local Head Start program has nurtured altruistic partnerships with businesses, service providers, and nonprofit organizations to create a wonderful tradition of giving for our children and families. Head Start Community Program of Morris County, a thriving nonprofit entering its 50th year as a Head Start grantee, is located in Dover, NJ.
Dover is a vibrant but impoverished Latino neighborhood nestled in the heart of one of the country's most affluent counties. The quality-of-life issues faced by the families we serve—predominantly Hispanic immigrants—are especially complex due to the local high-cost of housing and related services in the immediate area. Our program is able to address many of our families' needs and service gaps through supportive, longstanding community partnerships.
For the families we serve, the December–January holiday season is a time of rich cultural celebrations and family traditions. However, this time of year is often very difficult for the community's neediest and most vulnerable families. The staff of our family and community partnerships department has developed a program to ensure that each child served by our organization is granted a specific wish to commemorate the spirit of the holiday season. Local businesses, corporations, churches, municipalities, school groups, and neighbors are recruited for community engagement by our tireless social services staff. Year after year, our neighbors answer the call, enthusiastically providing the children and families with a wealth of gifts, food and clothing for the winter holiday season.
This past December, Head Start Community Program of Morris County's Adopt-a-Family initiative brought joy to 72 families. Our Social Services staff coordinated the needs of each family, supplementing federal resources with local community donations to make dreams come true. Our neediest families received children's toys, clothing, and household items, in addition to gift cards for supermarkets and department stores. Our dedicated program staff cheerfully hauled and carried mountains of donated items to their destinations. Community and corporate volunteers also pitched in. The entire neighborhood came together to meet the needs of Head Start children and their families. As we celebrate Head Start's 50th anniversary, we are pleased to share the story of our tradition of holiday partnerships that have anchored the community and engaged supporters from the corporate, nonprofit, and public sectors—united as one, to serve the area's most vulnerable children and families.
"I strongly believe that Head Start does make a positive impact on families-forever." Myrna Martorell, disabilities coordinator, Bronx, NY
I 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!
"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" 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!"
"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
My 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.
"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
I 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 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
Karen 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!"
"My experience in Head Start helped shape who I am today. Head Start helped provide a solid foundation for me." Katrina Letner, Sevierville, TN
I 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.
"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.
I 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.