Katrina Letner

–  Katrina Letner, former Head Start student, Sevierville, TN

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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.