Proyecto Avanzar: Meeting Identified Needs of Head Start Staff as College Students

Proyecto Avanzar at New Mexico State University aims to provide Head Start staff, who are also students, with resources that meet their educational and professional development needs. Head Start program administrators and policymakers can benefit from this overview of the strategies and supports developed to assist Proyecto Avanzar staff/students in achieving their career goals. Some of the resources provided to staff/students include: career advising services, online and weekend degree programs, scholarship informational sessions, computer and study skills workshops, and a laptop loaner program.

Submitted by: Drs. Nancy Baptiste, Luis Huerta-Charles, Co-PIs, New Mexico State University

Proyecto Avanzar at New Mexico State University, as one of the Improving the Quality and Long Term Effectiveness of Local Head Start Services to Hispanic/Latino Children and Their Families funded projects, has as its goals to: a) offer academic coursework and other training models to support Head Start teachers in degree attainment, b) create and offer curriculum that will assist teachers in enhancing the literacy and numeracy skills of Hispanic/Latino Head Start children, and c) share and disseminate lessons learned about methods, approaches, and experiences. With our four local Head Start partners (H.E.L.P., New Mexico, New Mexico Head Start, Dona Ana County Head Start, Primero los Ninos Early Head Start, and Las Cruces Public Schools Head Start), we decided to first identify the needs, challenges, and resources of Head Start staff who are also college students.

We guessed that Head Start staff who are students, parents, family and community members would have diverse needs, challenges, and resources. What we wanted to know was how project Proyecto Avanzar could assist them based on their needs as students. What we learned from the participants as well as from their directors and coordinators was that the major needs of Head Start staff/students are: 1) career advising, 2) alternative access to college credits, 3) financial aid support, 4) computer access and training, 5) strategies needed for success as a university student: writing, time management, and study skills. Our job was to provide resources to Head Start staff to meet their needs in these areas.

The Proyecto Avanzar team (faculty, Career Advisor, and graduate assistant) analyzed the reported staff/student needs and through its infrastructure provided resources to assist staff/students in having their needs met. To meet the career advising needs of staff/students, a full-time Career Advisor was hired for the project. The tasks and responsibilities of the Career Advisor include: face-to-face meetings with participants to elaborate and discuss a professional development plan, sharing financial aid, degree program, New Mexico Early Care, Education, and Family Support Career Lattice, and university admission and enrollment information, and other resources with staff/students. The Career Advisor follows up on each initial visit to insure that the staff/students are making appropriate progress in their professional development plan.

Computer ClassTo insure that staff/students have multiple ways of accessing college courses, the early childhood faculty at NMSU through their program area and grants, have created online courses at the Associate and Bachelor’s Degree levels and a Prior Learning Assessment process at the Associate Degree level. Through this process, staff/students have the opportunity to obtain credits through the Prior Learning Assessment program by demonstrating their mastery of New Mexico required competencies through the completion of challenge activities. The faculty is also exploring the possibility of offering Bachelor’s Licensure courses on weekends, through intensive short courses, and creating the PLA process at the Bachelor’s level. Currently there is an early childhood Master’s Degree program online. To extend the early childhood career lattice at New Mexico State University, the Early Childhood Program will be offering an online doctoral program.

With dwindling Head Start program resources for college tuition, staff/students are looking to alternative sources of funding. In New Mexico, T.E.A.C.H. scholarships are available to staff taking college courses. Proyecto Avanzar participants receive an orientation and information about the T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program. Additionally, participants are invited to attend workshops on federal financial aid, coordinated by the Career Advisor and offered by a university financial aid advisor.

Lady using Laptop

For many staff/students, computer access and literacy is a challenge. To assist staff/students in accessing computers, the project has informed all staff/students about the location of computer laboratories on both the community college and main campus. As an extra support for our participants, during the last two years, Proyecto Avanzar has been able to establish a lap top loan program. Applications for this loan program request enrollment in online courses and special need for access to a computer (see photos). For those staff/students that need to enhance their technology literacy, Proyecto Avanzar provides a four hour workshop each semester focused on the technology platform of the online courses (WebCT) (see photos). During the semester staff/students can request from the Career Advisor assistance with online courses.

Many of the staff/students have been away from formal education for several years. Their needs include review and enhancement of writing, study, and time management skills. Proyecto Avanzar provides for participants each semester separate workshops on writing, studying, and time management skills. Each participant receives a dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar book to support his/her studies. Participants are given opportunities for skill practice in each of the areas of writing, studying, and time management. Staff/students find the skills learned in these workshops helpful both in their professional and personal lives.

Web-Ct Workshop

Currently, the Proyecto Avanzar team has identified staff/student needs in the areas of career advising, alternative access to college credits, financial aid information, computer access and training, and skills for success as a college student. To date, the Proyecto Avanzar team has responded to these identified needs with activities to support degree attainment. Additionally, Proyecto Avanzarhas started offering a yearly Institute for all Head Start Partner staff to celebrate: 1) new learning, 2) collegiality, 3) individual professional development progress, and 4) partnership collaboration efforts in the area of staff professional development. For research purposes, Proyecto Avanzar Co-PIs (NMSU faculty) observe and interview Head Start staff/college students.

Lady at a desk using Laptop

The Proyecto Avanzar team sees as its responsibility the continuous identification of Head Start staff/student needs. The team also sees as its responsibility responsiveness to those needs and the development of new resources to meet those needs. What the project has already done and learned from the participants will enable Proyecto Avanzarto be responsive to their future needs.

"Proyecto Avanzar: Meeting Identified Needs of Head Start Staff as College Students." Baptiste, Nancy, PhD. and Huerta-Charles, Luis, PhD. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2007. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2012

Last Updated: March 23, 2016