Talking about School Readiness

Amanda Bryans

School readiness is a key part of Head Start, and has been since its beginning in 1965. We talk about school readiness as it relates to getting children ready for school, parents ready to support children in school, and schools ready for the children they receive. In Head Start, school readiness goals include the key areas of children's health and physical development, approaches to learning, social-emotional skills, and the participation of parents as their child's first and most important supporters and teachers.

Over the last several years, we have become more specific in our efforts to ensure that children have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Every one of our 1,600 Head Start and Early Head Start grantees is assigned to a federal staff person, called a program specialist. This person oversees the grant and helps programs meet school readiness and other Head Start standards.

In 2011, OHS Director Yvette Sanchez Fuentes asked program specialists to hold at least two calls per year with each grantee organization. During these calls, grantees discussed the strengths and challenges they encountered while establishing school readiness goals and aligning curricula and assessment systems. They talked about their process of individualizing for children and analyzing results to inform decision-making about program improvements and resources.

We heard from many grantees that the calls helped them focus on what they needed to accomplish and connected them to helpful training and technical assistance resources. Program specialists said they were able to learn a lot about the biggest challenges that programs face and about their amazing accomplishments. To the best of my knowledge, these conversations were the first system-wide discussion about a single topic in our history. That should tell you something about the importance of school readiness in Head Start.

School readiness conversations are already underway for the current program year. We expect to learn about programs' progress since last year, and are especially interested to hear how programs learn from their data and use it to make decisions. Recently, a coworker told me about a director who noticed big changes in his infant classrooms since the program established school readiness goals. The director said the teachers are building nurturing relationships and promoting development by talking more with the infants in their care; they describe things, ask questions, and give the babies a turn to "say" something.

As programs create and implement school readiness goals, it is important to think about each child's progress and what we hope to achieve. By working together, we can assure that, from the youngest babies to preschoolers about to start kindergarten, all Head Start children are ready for school.

Amanda Bryans is the Education and Comprehensive Services Division Director, Office of Head Start.

Talking about School Readiness. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2013. English.

Last Reviewed: January 2013

Last Updated: March 24, 2015