Beyond Breaking Bread: What Head Start Programs Do to Celebrate and Serve Our Nation's Children, Families, and Communities

Sharon Yandian

Chapatti, fry bread, pita, lavash, baguette sliced wheat, challah, simit, or soda bread. Bread brings people together, and is important as a connector and conveyer of culture.

Culture lives in the faces of our children and families, their clothes and foods, their attitudes and values, their traditions and beliefs. Through this diversity, we can strengthen ourselves and our colleagues, our programs, our communities, and our nation. I continue to be inspired by Head Start program efforts to truly welcome, engage, and serve families in their community. Whether the families are recently arrived refugees, have lived in the community for generations, or just moved from across town, they are welcomed with open arms.

One of the proudest hallmarks of Head Start is that we answer the call to assess and understand community needs. We organize our systems and services around unique and ever-changing communities. Over the last few years, changes have included an increase in the linguistic and cultural diversity of the families and Head Start staff who reflect these communities.

Head Start's 50th anniversary is a great opportunity to reflect back on the intentions of the architects of Head Start. While we were drafting the proposed regulations this year, I reread what the founders wrote about culture and language in "The Brown Manual." The importance of acknowledging and incorporating the culture and language of the child and family were early core requirements in 1965 and remain so today.

In my work at the federal office over the years, I have had the good fortune to learn about how Head Start programs across the country are proactively responding in many unique and respectful ways to deepen relationships with families. Every day, programs demonstrate how the connections between development, teaching, culture, and language prepare children for the world beyond the Head Start doors. I’ve often been told, "Once you understand and appreciate people's cultural backgrounds, then you can connect with them more." Each and every child and family in Head Start deserves this "connection." A connection that includes their bread, but moves beyond it.

A few years ago, we revised the Multicultural Principles resource and included "voices of the community." Again, I had a chance to see and learn what programs are doing. In this case, we were looking for practices that embodied each of the 10 multicultural principles. We wanted examples of culturally responsive curriculum and programs that seamlessly developed awareness and promoted respect for individual cultural differences. We wanted to see how programs furthered the understanding that everyone has a culture, and much more. And we found them! We found program practices across the nation—in cities, towns, farmworker camps, and on Native American reservations—that honored the languages and cultures of the Head Start families.

Sharon Yandian is the Director of the OHS State and National Training and Technical Assistance Division.

Beyond Breaking Bread: What Head Start Programs Do to Celebrate and Serve Our Nation’s Children, Families, and Communities. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2015. English.

Last Reviewed: December 2015

Last Updated: December 11, 2015