"JWJ Head Start, we will always be together. We will never forget, all the lovely people we've met. You have treated us so kind, at our first day at school. Kind hearts, tender care, that's what we got here at Head Start," Sandra Chapman sang as she stood proudly on the stage preparing to graduate from James Weldon Johnson Head Start. It was only 2 ½ years earlier in the early 1970’s that Sandra remembers being so excited to attend school that she insisted on joining her sister at Head Start in Spanish Harlem, New York City.
It was during her time at Head Start that Sandra learned how to be a member of a group, to care for others, and to take responsibility for her actions. She learned the fundamentals of literacy, math, science, and, most importantly, Head Start helped foster a lifelong love of learning.
Graduating from Head Start was only the first of Sandra's many achievements. After graduating from high school, she went on to receive her B.A. from Fordham University, earned a graduate degree in Education from Bank Street College, and is now pursuing her Ed. D. in Executive Leadership at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education at St. John Fisher College.
With her new degree Sandra will focus her energy on addressing the educational crisis of Latino children in the United States. “This demographic is growing, and yet research shows that the academic gaps between Latinos and Whites continue to widen,” she explained. “There are many children and families that could benefit from what Head Start has to offer.”
Looking back at her graduation song and the past 26 years of teaching, Sandra says she will never forget what Head Start did for her and her family in nurturing their love of education and quest for knowledge.
In honor of Head Start’s 50th Anniversary and Head Start Awareness Month, the National Head Start Association will be highlighting Head Start alumni each weekday in October. We will begin the month with Head Start’s youngest learners and conclude the celebration with the Head Start Class of 1965. As the month progresses, these alumni stories will exemplify the short-term and long-term benefits Head Start has provided for our nation’s most vulnerable children and families for the past 50 years.
Are you or anyone you know a Head Start alum? Share this story and sign up at go.nhsa.org/alumni!