Research shows that the Head Start program has intergenerational effects in disrupting poverty. For nearly 57 years, our programs have pioneered innovative approaches and solutions to combat the negative impacts of poverty on young children and their families. More than ever, it’s important for us to talk about the Head Start mission — to prepare the children who need us most for success in school and in life, to raise up whole families, and to give children a real head start.
October is Head Start Awareness Month, during which we raise awareness around the importance of supporting the whole child from birth to age 5 through comprehensive services. We also share our appreciation for the dedicated child care professionals, community partnerships, and volunteers who assist and share in our commitment to working toward equitable, high-quality inclusive early child care and education programs and practices for children and their families.
In the first week of Head Start Awareness month, I had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago for the Region V Head Start Association meeting. During my time in the Windy City, I had the opportunity to visit one of two local programs, and it was a hard choice to make between El Valor and Chicago Commons. Both programs are well known, appreciated, and integrated within their respective communities.
I joined a group of 26 others on the Chicago Commons field trip with the chief strategy officer, Nyla Diab. We were introduced to the program by the chief executive officer of Chicago Commons, Edgar Ramirez, who introduced us to the leadership team that makes up the wonderful Nia Center. The team walked us around the center to help us understand the work put into making this center a welcoming part of the lives of their families.
Nestled in the Humboldt Park community for over 20 years, Chicago Commons has been around since 1894. Communities and families rallied to name the center Nia, which means “purpose” in Swahili. The center was built with children and families in mind — large windows with ample natural lighting, infused nature-based learning, and a display of children’s art in every hallway.
The center implements the Reggio Emilia approach in collaboration with their Head Start and Early Head Start curricula and continuously nurtures strong community relationships.
Seeing Head Start centers like this and hearing about all they do to support family growth and engagement in children’s lives makes me realize the impact of my own teachers — the ones who believed in me, the ones who saw my abilities, who saw something in me, the ones who went above and beyond for me. I had many teachers and staff empower me to be better and who saw something in me that I didn’t see. All children should have the opportunity to feel and experience teachers like that. I know Head Start staff are those teachers for so many children and for their parents.
Children know they have a safe, steady place with Head Start staff who love to see them. Their parents know they can trust Head Start programs with their child’s learning, nutrition, life skills development, health screenings, and connection to follow-up care. Parents also come to learn that Head Start staff will help them be better parents, connect them to jobs and resources, and involve them in decision-making. Perhaps it’s because a quarter of Head Start staff are former Head Start parents, but I am amazed to see how our programs continue doing everything in their power to make sure children and families get a holistic and comprehensive approach to their care, wellness, and learning in all sorts of situations, including after major adversities, like the COVID-19 pandemic and man-made disasters.
As deputy director, it is my great pleasure to work alongside and lead others who have also dedicated their professional lives to serving the children and families who need us most. As a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service, I appreciate the research that shows Head Start programs are not only an early childhood intervention, but also an important public health intervention that changes the course of children’s lives, and the lives of their children as well.
I look forward to my next site visit and the opportunity to engage with local Head Start communities across the country. Throughout the month of October, join us in raising awareness of the key role Head Start programs and services play in supporting vulnerable children and families to succeed in school and in life. Download our digital toolkit with social media assets for you to share with eligible families as well as early care, education, and family service providers of all kinds. Tag us in your posts using #HeadStartAwarenessMonth!
This blog was first published on the ACF Family Room blog.
Tala Hooban is the deputy director for the Office of Head Start.